When media asked Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff about how hot winger Thomas Vanek has been this season, Ruff cracked a smile.
He took the media back to the moments before Buffalo started its shooting in Thursday's 5-4 win over Montreal, joking his desire to get his star forward on the ice overshadowed his knowledge of the rules:
"I wrote down number 26 (on the shootout lineup card) three times. They I had to scribble it out twice and put down other guys. I forgot I can't do that."
Vanek has been as dependable as they come this season. The Hart Trophy candidate has a league-leading 10 goals – nearly 30 percent of Buffalo's total output this season – and 21 points. He also scored the opening goal of Thursday's shooting and paced Buffalo's comeback Thursday, scoring the last two goals of regulation to send the game to overtime.
"He's got the knack," Ruff said of his star. "When he's hot, sometimes he's unstoppable."
Indeed, the Islanders may have a tough time stopping him when the Sabres invade the Nassau Coliseum tonight (7 p.m., MSG). But the Sabres' secondary lines have struggled most of this season, allowing opponents to capitalize on shoddy defensive play and goaltending and send Buffalo to a rough 4-6-1 start this season.
Buffalo's now given up at least four goals in six straight games. Shaky defense from Tyler Myers and Jordan Leopold have been a part of that, but a lack of back-checking from offensive-minded from the likes of Cody Hodgson and Tyler Ennis have contributed to the wide-open floodgates in front of the Buffalo goal.
But Buffalo can take two positives from Thursday. One, the league's worst faceoff team actually won a majority of its draws against Montreal. Second, the secondary scoring lines made their presence known. Ennis scored his fourth goal of the season and added two assists, while Marcus Foligno had three assists. They, along with linemate Drew Stafford, were Buffalo's most effective line throughout Thursday's game in the Montreal end, giving the Habs fits and nearly converting a handful more chances.
"Yeah, it’s frustrating," Ennis said of their missed chances, which included a five-on-three power play in the second period Thursday. "There was a little sense of relief when we scored on the power play there (in the third period). We had some good looks before, but we can still clean it up on our entries and getting pucks back."
The long-moribund Islanders are showing some signs of improvement. They stand at 4-5-1 this season but, with 34 goals, aren't that much better defensively than Buffalo (41 goals against in one more game). Some of their young offensive talent is coming through, though. John Tavares and Michael Grabner have five goals each, while Matt Moulson has added four. Tavares leads the team with 12 points. Former Sabre Brad Boyes has three goals already after scoring only eight all last season with Buffalo.
The Islanders acquired Tim Thomas from Boston Thursday. The self-exiled goalie will not play this season for personal reasons, so the Islanders are taking a chance he might return in 2013-14. Veteran Evgeni Nabakov (4-4-1, 2.99 GAA) has led the way in net, with former star Rick Dipietro relegated to the bench (he's made on start, a loss).
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