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One down, 81 to go as Sabres hit road Buffalo moving on from opening win

A much-hyped opener produced drama worthy of the playoff push and ultimately a pulsating shootout victory. But Friday's win over Montreal was just Game One of 82 for the Buffalo Sabres. That's all.

We now bring you the rest of the hockey season.

A busy week of four games in six days begins with a rare afternoon contest today in Nassau Coliseum against the New York Islanders.

By most forecasts, the Islanders are going to battle the Toronto Maple Leafs to stay out of the Eastern Conference cellar this season, but they gave Buffalo fits with back-to-back losses in the first two games last season and the Sabres are thus wary again.

"There's no gimmes. We found out last year the first two games," coach Lindy Ruff said after practice Sunday morning in HSBC Arena. "You've got to be ready to put the work in. You have to keep driving home the point that with the parity in this league, if you're not ready to do the little things and commit to being strong away from the puck and strong with it, any team can beat any other team."

Both before practice and again when the team gathered on the ice for its 60-minute workout, Ruff made sure to get his message across.

"We enjoyed the first game. Went home, enjoyed it some more and let it all sink in," said new captain Craig Rivet. "I thought we played a real solid game, got great work from all four lines, our six [defensemen] and our goaltender. That's what we're looking for. But as a professional, you need to put games behind you and we're looking at a new challenge."

Ruff was impressed with the way the Sabres won physical battles against the Habs and he also liked how his team persevered in a low-scoring affair that seems like it will be more of the norm this season around the NHL. The Sabres won just six games last year when scoring two goals or less, a figure that has to improve as defense becomes a bigger factor in games.

"It was intense. Nobody wanted to make a mistake," said center Derek Roy. "It didn't seem like a game in October with everything wide-open and guys out of place. Guys were playing defense first and that's how we're going to win."

With Ruff in charge, there's no resting on any laurels. Things can quickly fall apart, as they did for the Leafs from the opener (a 3-2 upset in Detroit) to Game Two (Saturday's 6-1 loss to Montreal).

"There's plenty of examples around. You can just look across the border [at the Leafs]," Ruff said. "We talked about how well they played, beating the Stanley Cup champions, then they play at home in their opener and it isn't anything like that. So there's reminders. I talked to them before we went out about being focused and how hard it's going to be."

"[The opener] was a game with a lot of buildup, one a lot of people had been waiting for," Roy said. "It's been a long time since we played on this ice. Especially with the Bills on their bye week, a lot of fans were eager to watch some sports and hopefully they got to see what they wanted. Now we want to keep playing, keep going forward with that momentum."

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Ruff said backup goaltender Patrick Lalime will definitely make his Buffalo debut this week. The Sabres also play Wednesday in Madison Square Garden against the Rangers, host Vancouver on Friday and play Saturday in Atlanta.

"He's going to play in the near future, he's playing this week and it's sooner rather than later," Ruff said, declining to be specific. "I'm just not going to do the scouting for the other team."

Under new coach Scott Gordon, the Islanders are 1-1 after losing, 2-1, on Friday in New Jersey and then bouncing back to beat St. Louis, 5-2, in their home opener Saturday. Backup goaltender Joey MacDonald has played both games while starter Rick DiPietro works back slowly from offseason knee surgery; DiPietro might make his season debut today.

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The best goaltending maneuver in Friday's game may not have been by Buffalo's Ryan Miller or Montreal counterpart Carey Price. It may have come midway through the second period from Sabres defenseman Toni Lydman, who scooped Roman Hamrlik's shot away from the goal line as it was dribbling into the net after the puck leaked through Miller.

"I didn't see it right away because it was on Ryan's other side," Lydman said Sunday. "I was standing on his left side, I saw it rolling towards the net and I guess thank God I have a long stick."

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com

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