Niagara Gazette

Pro Sports

January 6, 2009

SCHMITT: Rivet adds the bite the Sabres need

BUFFALO — The bite was all anyone wanted to talk about. It’s fun — as long as it wasn’t your finger. Flashy. One of those silly moments that’ll eat up half of the 20 seconds ESPN allots for NHL highlights.

But in the end, whether Jarkko Ruutu bit Andrew Peters or not — as Lindy Ruff said after Buffalo’s 4-2 victory at HSBC Arena — was “the most irrelevant part of the game.”

Give Ruff credit for not getting caught in the hoopla, rather than using his platform to demand a suspension. Peters is a big boy. He’ll remember, and “reconnect” with Ruutu when the time is right. And give ol’ Jarkko his due — his “what, me?” reaction to accusations he McGruffed the Sabres’ tough guy was nothing if not great theater.

In the end, though, all that really mattered was that the Sabres found a way to hang on to a lead they tried to give back during a sloppy couple shifts in the second period.

“I still think that was a game that might have gotten away from us early in the year,” Ruff said. “We found a way to win it. Found a way to lock it down and win it.”

How’d they do it? He might not have been the only reason, but having Craig Rivet back in the lineup sure didn’t hurt. With Rivet, who’d missed the last 11 starts with a bum shoulder, back patrolling the blue line, the Sabres seem to play with purpose. Grittier. Making smart plays, but not soft ones.

And with a team as offensively talented as the Sabres, that’ll usually translate to wins.

For example, in the third with Buffalo up 3-2, Chris Kelly came cruising through the crease as Ryan Miller tried to freeze the puck. Rivet stepped in, tangled with Kelly, but didn’t take the bait. The message was clear — get the heck out (family-friendly translation, I’m sure), and do it now. Drew Stafford helped out. Rivet got free from one Senator and stepped back to have words with Kelly. And when a guy like Rivet steps over to deliver a message, you can bet guys hear him out.

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