The Sabres were fresh off another playoff defeat that left fans feeling cheated. Two years in a row and they couldn’t catch a break. Gone were Michael Peca, Michal Grosek, Brian Holzinger and Geoff Sanderson on offense. Returning to the team were Dave Andreychuk and Donald Audette. Chris Gratton, J.P. Dumont and Maxim Afinogenov had breakout seasons and Miroslav Satan continued to produce.
Buffalo had even more scoring difficulties than they did the previous two seasons, but once again some well struck trades completed the lineup they needed. Donald Audette’s return (via Atlanta) and the acquisition of Steve Heinze from Columbus bolstered the Sabres at the expense of some of the newer expansion clubs. Their balanced and dangerous playoff roster looked like this:
|Top 9 to start season:
|Miroslav Satan||Doug Gilmour||Maxim Afinogenov|
|Donald Audette||Stu Barnes||J.P. Dumont|
|Dave Andreychuk||Erik Rasmussen||Steve Heinze|
Satan and Afinogenov formed the speedy line that would wear down opponents’ defenses. Audette, Barnes and Dumont were pure snipers. Andreychuk, Gratton and Heinze worked hard for every goal they scored. Varada, Tsyplakov and Brown added scoring and agitation while Boulton, Rassmussen and Ray were the muscle to keep other teams honest. It was a Lindy Ruff dream roster in terms of the structure of most of his lines and the overall talent allowed him to juggle lines whenever he wanted.
Returning on defense was the very stable top pairing of Zhitnik and Woolley. Jay McKee, James Patrick, Richard Smehlik and Rhett Warrener were also back showing that defense was an area management was confident in. Dmitri Kalinin was also able to break in during the season, showing an offensive talent he wouldn’t display again for the rest of his NHL career. This defense was as deep as it ever was and almost the exact same defense that took the ice during the Sabres’ 1999 Stanley Cup Final run.
|2000-2001 Statistics (top 10):|
Unlike that run, Buffalo’s defense couldn’t quite stay healthy in the playoffs. Jason Woolley, Jay McKee, Richard Smehlik and Alexei Zhitnik were all faced with injuries during the playoffs. With the forwards unable to provide as much offense as in the past and the defense in injury trouble it fell to one of the all-time greats to really give this team a shot.
Dominic Hasek led the Sabres to the highest point total in 8 years with 94. His .921 Save Percentage, 2.11 Goals Against Average and 37 wins were good enough to earn him First-Team All-Star, Jennings and Vezina Trophies. These were improved upon numbers from the 1999-2000 and a strong performance for his last as a Buffalo Sabres. His team ultimately came up short to the abominable feel good story of Mario Lemieux, but they put up a good fight.
Hasek took the team on his back and played every game like it was his last. His numbers had begun to slip from years past, but he was still as dominant as ever. The looks on the faces of his opponents after a particularly nimble stop were enough to tell the tale of his greatness.
Martin Biron was once again the backup, showing incredible stability in goal and on defense for a 3 year period. That is almost unheard of in the NHL. It paid off as the Sabres had 3 very successful years in keeping the puck out of the net. A Stanley Cup Final, Eastern Conference Final and Second Round appearance aren’t too shabby for teams that scored at the pace these Sabres’ clubs did.