CHICAGO - The Chicago Blackhawks had Brad Richards at second-line centre for much of training camp, and then coach Joel Quenneville returned Andrew Shaw to that role near the end of the preseason.
Sure looks like a smart move right now.
Shaw, Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad combined for two goals and five assists, and the Blackhawks used a four-goal third period to beat the Buffalo Sabres 6-2 in their home opener on Saturday night.
"It is satisfying. Playing with those two guys, you know they're going to make plays," Shaw said, "so I just try to go to the dirty areas and get them the puck and go to the net and they seem to make a lot of things happen."
Shaw, Kane and Saad helped lead Chicago back from a 3-1 deficit in the Western Conference final last season, but the Stanley Cup champion Kings won Game 7 in overtime. The Blackhawks then signed Richards in the off-season, but it looks as if Shaw is right at home playing centre behind captain Jonathan Toews.
"That line had a couple of shifts that were pretty impressive in the third period," Quenneville said.
Zemgus Girgensons and Tyler Ennis scored in the first period for Buffalo, which lost 3-1 to Columbus in its season opener on Thursday night. Drew Stafford had two assists and Jhonas Enroth had 41 stops.
"In the third period, their star players turned it up a notch and we didn't," Sabres coach Ted Nolan said.
Shaw and Kane each had a goal and an assist in the Blackhawks' fifth consecutive win against the Sabres. Saad had a career-high three assists and Corey Crawford made 21 saves.
"I think we started really well, and we forgot to play defence," said Marian Hossa, who had a short-handed goal in the third. "They just kept coming and it was a tie game. But we had more chances and more shots, and eventually we played better defensively."
The game was tied at 2 when Kane one-timed a backhand pass from Shaw past Enroth at 5:58 of the third. It was the first of the season for the Buffalo native, who has five career goals against his hometown team.
Chicago poured it on from there. Hossa had a short-handed score at 10:03, Patrick Sharp converted a long power-play slap shot and Daniel Carcillo tapped in a feed from Saad with 2:37 left.
"We just got outplayed," Ennis said. "We didn't have any power plays going in the third and we were giving up tons and it's not acceptable to play like that on the power plays with the man advantages."
Coming off a 3-2 shootout win at Dallas in their season opener, a victory that Quenneville said they stole from the Stars, the Blackhawks jumped out to a fast start against the Sabres.
Shaw tipped Niklas Hjalmarsson's long shot past Enroth just 59 seconds into the game. Duncan Keith then had another long shot go off the stick of a Buffalo player and into the upper right corner for a 2-0 lead at 2:52 of the first.
With the crowd of 22,012 looking for a quick knockout, Enroth settled down and the Sabres went to work on Crawford. Girgensons poked home a rebound to get Buffalo on the board, and Ennis scored on a short-handed breakaway to make it 2-2 at 18:40.
Stafford set up the tying score when he intercepted a pass from Richards near the blue line and played it forward to a streaking Ennis, who skated in on Crawford for his first goal of the season. The Blackhawks went 1 for 4 on the power play.
Chicago had a chance to go in front in the final seconds of the first, but Enroth made a great save on Jonathan Toews right in front of the net.
Buffalo had the best opportunity in the scoreless second period. After Blackhawks defenceman David Rundblad failed to control the puck at the point, Nicolas Deslauriers got loose for a breakaway, but was stopped by Crawford, leading to chants of "Co-rey! Co-rey!" from the crowd.
NOTES: The Flames scratched C Brian Flynn and Ds Tyson Strachan and Nikita Zadorov. ... F Kris Versteeg and Ds Kyle Cumiskey and Michal Rozsival were the scratches for the Blackhawks ... Former Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon received a standing ovation before he participated in the shoot the puck contest in between the second and third periods.
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap