Niagara Gazette

January 1, 2008

SABRES NOTEBOOK: Pens get early start in Classic

By Tim Schmitt

ORCHARD PARK — It didn’t take long for the Pittsburgh Penguins to get acclimated to the wintry weather at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Tuesday.

Just 21 seconds after the opening faceoff, Sidney Crosby swooped in around Brian Campbell and a rebound found the stick of Colby Armstrong, who poked it past Ryan Miller. The goal was the only one the team would score before a shootout in a 2-1 victory over the Sabres

For Armstrong, the goal was his third in as many games.

Buffalo tightened up its defense from there, however, by playing a simpler style of dumping it up the boards.

“We learned that after the first 10 minutes, I think you saw we changed our game a little where you just have to pound it out. It’s not going to go all the way down the ice,” defenseman Nathan Paestch said. “We said that after the first period, you have to eliminate D-to-D passes because you just don’t what’s going to happen with it and you don’t want mess around with it in your end. We were just trying to push it forward. It was almost a possession game.”

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Although passing through the slush was difficult, the Sabres’ only goal came on a nifty feed from Tim Connolly to Brian Campbell. Connolly lofted a pass over the sticks of Ryan Whitney and Jordan Staal that landed in front of Campbell, who hammered it past Ty Conklin.

Campbell, who now has two goals in his last games after scoring just two in his first 34, knew the goal was a big one with the sloppy weather conditions.

“You give up and early one there and you probably know it was going to be a low-scoring game,” he said. “It’s a nice feeling. You’ve just got to shoot as many pucks as you can, but obviously, Timmy made a great play on that goal.”

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Drew Stafford participated in the pregame skate, but was one of two Buffalo scratches on the night. Lindy Ruff had said earlier that Stafford would not play because of a concussion he suffered, but added that he could see the second-year winger was eager to be a part of the spectacle.

The other scratch for Buffalo was Nolan Pratt while Pittsburgh’s lone scratch was Gary Roberts, who broke his left leg on Saturday against the Sabres.

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As would be expected in a hockey stadium with 73,000 fans, there were plenty of signs floating through the crowd. Our favorite was held by a woman in a retro Sabres jersey that read, “Look Mom, no roof!”

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While the crowd was frigid at Ralph Wilson Stadium, 11,500 fans took in the game from the friendly confines of HSBC Arena, according to Mike Gilbert, the team’s director of public relations.

The team sold 8,900 tickets to the party prior to Tuesday, then added 2,600 in walkup tickets prior to gametime.

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Crews dealt consistently throughout the day with rough patches in the ice and players admitted that it did hurt the flow of the contest. But the players said the ice conditions were good on the whole.

“Just the skating was fine. I was really impressed with the ice. The only bad thing was the snow,” said Jason Pominville, who played nearly 21 minutes of ice time and had four shots. “But they did a pretty good job on any stoppage in play trying to pass the Zamboni.”

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Ty Conklin certainly seems to have the number of his former teammates. After shutting out the Sabres on Saturday, Conklin shined again with 36 saves, including seven in overtime.

“I’m happy for him,” Ruff said. “I’m not happy what he did to us the last couple of games, but I’m not surprised because he’s had a history of playing some good hockey.

“And I think he had added incentive. Let’s not kid ourselves.”

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Give CBC a nod for a great pregame show that included a tour of Memorial Auditorium with interviews of Ruff and Larry Playfair. During the pregame, the CBC also had an interesting exchange where Ron McLean interviewed a miked-up Pittsburgh’s Georges Laraque while he was taking part in the pregame skate.

Contact group sports editor Tim Schmitt at 282-2311, ext. 2266.