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A surging second line and a suffocating penalty kill have sparked the New York Rangers to their best start in 25 years. They now seek the best start in franchise history Wednesday when they host the Buffalo Sabres.
The Rangers are 5-0-0 for the first time since the 1983-84 season after defeating New Jersey 4-1 on Monday. Aaron Voros, Brandon Dubinsky and Nikolai Zherdev combined for three goals and four assists - with Voros notching his first career two-goal game - as they again stole the spotlight from New York's more heralded first line of Scott Gomez, Markus Naslund and Chris Drury.
"The guys around me make me look good," said Voros, who already has three goals and four assists after totaling seven goals and seven assists in 55 games last season with Minnesota. "I just stand there. I have the easiest job in the rink."
While coach Tom Renney has his second line clicking, it has been the penalty-killing units that have been making it look easy for the Rangers thus far. They killed off another three penalties Monday and are now 21-for-21 when short-handed, even adding a goal when down a man.
"We haven't played every game perfect," Dubinsky told the Rangers' official Web site. "But the big thing is that we have 23 guys on this team that care deeply about winning and care about each other and are willing to go out and put it on the line every night."
Drury, whose free-agent departure prior to last season weakened a Sabres team that had reached the conference finals the previous two seasons, had two assists in four games versus Buffalo in 2007-08.
Buffalo (2-0-0) is trying to open with three straight wins for the second time in three seasons after routing the New York Islanders 7-1 on Monday afternoon. Thomas Vanek had two goals - including his first career short-handed tally - in a four-goal second period for the Sabres, who netted three goals in a 3:32 span to open a 5-0 lead.
"I told him if he worked hard and kept his legs moving, he would see penalty-killing time," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said of Vanek, a 36-goal scorer in 2007-08. "My goal is to make him the best two-way player in hockey, and he has the potential to do that."
Vanek has five goals, including three on the power play, and four assists in 12 lifetime games against the Rangers.
He may have to provide even more offense since the Sabres will be without center Jochen Hecht, who will be sidelined at least two weeks after undergoing surgery for a finger injury suffered Monday. Ruff will count on Clarke MacArthur to center the second line between Jason Pominville and Daniel Paille.
"It's an opportunity for me to come in and show something," said the 23-year-old MacArthur to the Sabres' official Web site. "They are going to be tough. I'm going to have work hard, play smart... and we're going to have to be ready to go."
Since Tim Connolly is still out with a back injury, Ruff has also moved Adam Mair to center the third line, while Matt Ellis - claimed off waivers Oct. 1 from Los Angeles - will make his Sabres debut on the fourth line.