It was arguably the most public declaration about private parts
in Buffalo sports history. After missing 40 games last season
with a torn groin muscle, goaltender Dominik Hasek returned from
his native Czech Republic this summer with an optimistic
diagnosis that could be the prescription for his team's woes. "I
took care of my groin," Hasek informed reporters on the first day
of training camp. "I played lots of tennis and squash and never
had any problems. I was on the ice four times and never had any
problems."

Being problem-free would be a welcome change for a team besotted
with them a year ago. Expected to be a contender for the Stanley
Cup after reaching the finals two years ago, the Sabres came out
of the gate (0-5-2 in the first seven games) as if hungover from
the previous season's success. A late surge, keyed by the
addition of forward Doug Gilmour (73 points in 74 games) just
before the trading deadline, pushed Buffalo into the playoffs on
the final day of the season. In Round 1, however, they were
eliminated by the Flyers in five games. "Last year's start was
something we never recovered from," says coach Lindy Ruff before
saying what goes without saying: "We need to get off to a good
start this season."

A healthy Hasek, who suffered a minor knee injury in the team's
opener but should return later this week, could ensure that. Ruff
says he envisions Hasek playing between 60 and 70 games and
returning to his usual dominating form.

Even if Hasek is his old impenetrable self, the Sabres must
improve a power play that ranked last in the league in efficiency
(10.5%). Having the 37-year-old Gilmour for a full season should
help, but the unit's struggles will continue unless point men
Alexei Zhitnik and Jason Woolley rebound from subpar years. The
Sabres will also need to cope with the early absence of captain
Mike Peca and backup goalie Martin Biron (he had five shutouts as
a rookie in 1999-2000), both of whom were holding out in contract
disputes.

"Our goal is simply to make the playoffs and take it from there,"
says Gilmour. "Except this season, we want to make the playoffs
by February."

--Richard Deitsch

COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER Hasek says the groin is good--the best news the Sabres can hear.

Fast Fact
Wing Dave Andreychuk entered the season with 228 power play
goals, 20 behind Phil Esposito's league record of 248.

Insider

CATEGORY SI RANKING SKINNY

FORWARDS 20 Must get more offense from Gratton

DEFENSE 8 Reliable, but Zhitnik needs to rebound

GOALTENDING 3 Hasek still can dominate

SPECIAL TEAMS 22 PP needs a quarterback; Brown is top
penalty killer

MANAGEMENT 16 Ruff has to get Sabres to play
hard every night

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)