LW Vanek’s hot hand has Sabres off to fast start
Souvenirs and fond memories are not the only things Buffalo
Sabres forward Thomas Vanek brought back from the team’s two-game,
season-opening trip to Europe.
Vanek re-entered the United States with a potent scoring touch,
”What?” the two-time, 40-goal-scorer said with a laugh after
practice Tuesday. ”I didn’t have that before?”
Usually not this early in the season.
The often slow-starting Vanek has a team-leading five points
(two goals, three assists) after helping the Sabres get off to a
2-0 start with wins over Anaheim at Helsinki on Friday, and Los
Angeles at Berlin the following day. He is two points shy of his
total in 12 games last October, and has already matched the
production he had in his first nine games two seasons ago.
The Austrian-born Vanek will get an opportunity to test his
touch on this side of the Atlantic on Friday, when the Sabres play
their home opener against Carolina.
”It’s obviously a good start for myself,” Vanek said. ”But,
you can’t do this by yourself.”
The left wing is referring to the help he’s getting from playing
on a newly formed line centered by rookie Luke Adam and rounded out
by first-year captain Jason Pominville. The trio has combined to
score five of Buffalo’s eight goals.
The line was put together on what coach Lindy Ruff described as
a whim before Buffalo’s final NHL preseason game two weeks ago.
Adam, last season’s American Hockey League rookie of the year, was
inserted at center to replace Derek Roy, who was nursing a minor
”I just took a shot,” Ruff said. ”It’s something when you put
it together, you hope it works. … Right now, they’ve done a nice
job for us.”
He’s particularly pleased with Vanek’s play, noting the winger
has added a play-making style to his game after matching a career
best with 41 assists last season. Ruff also noted that Vanek is
using his 6-foot-2, 207-pound frame to play a more physical style
while being more responsible with the puck.
Pominville said Vanek has provided an all-around boost.
”He’s a big part of our team offensively,” Pominville said.
”It’s nice if he can build on that confidence and feed off it. And
I think he’s doing that right now.”
Buffalo’s 2003 first-round pick, Vanek has led the Sabres in
goals in each of the past five seasons. Yet he isn’t bold enough to
believe he or his linemates can maintain the two-game pace they’ve
”The season is long, and you’re going to have good stretches
and bad stretches,” he said. ”I think I’ve been around long
enough where you welcome it and take it as they come. But it’s the
same as when you win and lose games, you try to stay even
Vanek is accustomed to hot and cold streaks over his six-year
NHL career. He opened last season with four goals and three assists
in his first 15 games, and then closed with nine goals and 12
assists in his final 17 games to finish with a team-leading 73
What’s encouraging is that his production has provided a glimpse
of the potential the Sabres were hoping to get out of a revamped
offense that lacked consistency and depth for much of the previous
Adam’s sudden emergence, Roy’s return after he missed the second
half of last season with a knee injury, and the addition of veteran
free agent center Ville Leino has provided Ruff an opportunity to
spread his offense across three lines. That should make it more
difficult for opponents to defend.
It’s a reason why Ruff opened the season by saying he has no
intention of delegating numbers to rank his lines from first to
”Anybody who gets the most points will get credit for being the
top line,” Ruff said.
No mistaking which line is No. 1 for now.
”It’s nice to have that label after two games,” Adam said.
”It would be nicer to keep it there all year.”
NOTES: Forward Jochen Hecht was cleared for contact Tuesday for
the first time since sustaining a concussion in practice two weeks
ago. Ruff said it’s too early to rule out Hecht from playing
Friday. … The Sabres returned from Germany early Sunday, and
returned to practice on Monday. … After hosting Carolina, Buffalo
will go on a four-game road trip.