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Red-hot Vanek helps keeps Sabres perfect

by Brian Hunter

"I felt pretty good during the second half last season, but I'm showing up on the scoresheet now and I think people are making a big deal out of it."
-- Buffalo forward Thomas Vanek

Two seasons ago, the Buffalo Sabres opened with four straight victories en route to finishing atop the Eastern Conference standings and making it to the third round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

There's a long way to go to see how this season turns out, but the Sabres are 4-0-0 for the second time in three seasons — and after missing out on the playoffs entirely last season, a fast start is more than welcome.   

Thomas Vanek scored his NHL-leading sixth goal and added a pair of assists in Friday's 5-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks at HSBC Arena, which also featured two goals from Ales Kotalik and a 23-save effort by goalie Ryan Miller.

''Well, it's not easy,'' said Vanek, who has scored in each of the Sabres' four games this season. ''We got an early jump on them, and from there on out we played pretty well.''

Jaroslav Spacek and Clarke MacArthur scored power-play goals in the first period to get the Sabres going — and they never looked back. Spacek scored at 1:16, converting just six seconds after a penalty to Canucks defenseman Willie Mitchell, and MacArthur followed at 8:30. Kotalik scored his first of the night 4:40 later as Buffalo blitzed backup goalie Curtis Sanford, who was giving Vancouver captain Roberto Luongo a rare night off.

''I wasn't playing my game in the first period and it showed,'' Sanford said. ''I was fighting the puck a little bit, and all of a sudden the bounces were going their way.''

Ryan Kesler got the Canucks on the scoreboard early in the second and Steve Bernier tallied in the third, but those goals were answered by Vanek and Kotalik, respectively, as the Sabres never let the visitors get closer than two.

Kotalik's second goal, set up when Vanek beat Sami Salo to the puck and then fed Kotalik with a perfect pass despite being pulled down by Salo from behind, drew praise from Sabres coach Lindy Ruff.

''I'm looking at the effort behind the plays,'' Ruff said. ''I'm looking at the play made on that last goal. It's that effort that really sticks out.''

Vanek scored 43 and 36 goals the past two seasons, though in 2007-08 he didn't get his sixth of the season until Buffalo's 21st game.

''I felt pretty good during the second half last season, but I'm showing up on the scoresheet now and I think people are making a big deal out of it," Vanek said. ''I've been on hot streaks before and then got pretty cold, so now I'm just trying to be consistent.''

Senators 6, Coyotes 3 | Video

The Senators had plenty of time to sit and think about their previous game, when they let a third-period lead slip away at home and lost to defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit last Saturday.

Back on the ice Friday night, Jason Spezza and his teammates took out any lingering frustrations on visiting Phoenix. Spezza scored two goals and added two assists while Jarkko Ruutu also scored twice and the Senators jumped out to a 5-0 lead before holding on for the win at Scotiabank Place.

Dany Heatley and Anton Volchenkov had the other Ottawa goals and captain Daniel Alfredsson registered a pair of assists in his return from arthroscopic knee surgery following the team's season-opening European trip. Martin Gerber finished with 34 saves.

"We had great energy," Spezza said of the Senators' effort. "That's how we want to play."

Shane Doan, Enver Lisin and Mikkel Boedker scored third-period goals as the Coyotes worked their way back into the game, but it was too little, too late. After Doan made it 4-1, Ruutu answered with his second of the night. Lisin and Boedker cut the deficit to 5-3 but Spezza iced the victory with by scoring a power-play goal with 1:43 left — just five seconds after Steven Reinprecht received a delay of game penalty for sending the puck over the glass.

"I think the first 20 minutes we came out hard, and that's the way we want to play," said Ruutu, whose goals were his first since signing as a free agent from Pittsburgh during the summer. "We got a 3-0 lead and after that we got sloppy the second and third, but I think we have to learn a lesson from that — just how to prepare and play the style we want to play."

Coyotes goalie Ilya Bryzgalov was victimized for six goals on 26 shots but was absolved of any blame in the loss by teammate Olli Jokinen.

"I think the first 40 minutes was embarrassing the way we played," Jokinen said. "Bryzgalov was the only guy ready to play."

Blue Jackets 5, Predators 3 | Video

Rick Nash lit the lamp a couple of times, a familiar sight for the fans at Nationwide Arena. But those on hand for the Jackets' home opener also got a glimpse of the future — in rapid-fire fashion.

Rookies Nikita Filatov and Jakub Voracek scored goals eight seconds apart in the first period, setting a record for the quickest two goals in franchise history, and Jason Chimera's power-play goal in the third gave the Jackets some breathing room after they almost let a 4-0 lead slip away.

''It was wildly exciting,'' Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock said. ''A few more like this and they're going to put us in the loony bin.''

The Blue Jackets chased Predators goalie Pekka Rinne before the game was 15 minutes old. Nash started the onslaught at 4:25 when he took a nifty cross-ice pass from Kristian Huselius and slipped the puck inside the near post.

Filatov, the Jackets' top pick in this year's Entry Draft and playing his first NHL game, got on the scoreboard with 5:34 left in the period. Fredrik Modin corralled a loose puck along the boards and sent a pass from behind the net to Filatov for a one-timer from the slot. That goal hadn't even been announced when Voracek chipped in Derick Brassard's centering pass for his second of the season.

''I don't know how many — 18,000, 19,000 here — and in Russia it's never like this,'' Filatov said. ''I was really excited and maybe a little bit nervous before the game. After warmup, I was OK.''

When Nash scored his second of the night 23 seconds into the second period, Columbus was cruising. But Nashville responded with a quick-strike combination of its own, as Greg de Vries and Scott Nichol scored 11 seconds apart to cut the lead in half. J.P. Dumont made it 4-3 at 1:39 of the third.

Chimera's goal helped ensure the Jackets their first regulation win against the Predators in 17 tries, after Nashville enjoyed a 15-0-1 run.

''It's nice anytime you get a win against those guys,'' he said. ''No matter how you look at it, you can say it doesn't bother you but it's always in the back of your mind. The media brings it up all the time, so it helps you remember it.''

Pascal Leclaire made 24 saves in net for Columbus before a hand injury forced him out of the game with 5:14 remaining. Leclaire, who was replaced by Fredrik Norrena, stopped a hard shot with the palm side of his blocker, then left the ice in pain while holding out his bare right hand.

Oilers 4, Flames 3 | Video
Calgary turned out to be an accommodating host — the Flames kept giving the Oilers power-play opportunities and Edmonton repeatedly capitalized in winning for the third time in as many games to begin the season.

Erik Cole, Lubomir Visnovsky and Robert Nilsson all scored in the second period with the Oilers enjoying a man advantage, turning a 2-1 deficit into a 4-2 lead and providing just enough offense for Edmonton to escape Pengrowth Saddledome with a win.

Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers was the beneficiary of the Flames' parade to the penalty box and the ensuing goals by the Oilers, making 26 saves to win his first NHL start. Andrew Cogliano also scored for Edmonton, which hosts Calgary on Saturday in the back end of the home-and-home series.

''It's always something special when you have your first NHL start," Drouin-Deslauriers said. "You think you know what to expect but it's something very different, the feeling is unbelievable. The guys played amazing today, they played hard, they were everywhere. They helped me with every aspect of my game. It was a big team win.''

Adrian Aucoin, David Moss and Todd Bertuzzi scored for the Flames, who yielded six straight power-play chances to start the game, including five in the second period.

''It's tough when we've got to kill five, six, seven penalties in a row,'' Bertuzzi said. ''You ask any team, that's a tough hill to climb. You give them that many opportunities, they're going to cash in on a few of them."

Cole tied the game at 6:30 by tipping a Sheldon Souray slapper past Miikka Kiprusoff. Visnovsky gave the Oilers their first lead at 11:39 with a one-timer from the point off an Ales Hemsky feed. Nilsson notched what ended up being the game-winner with 3:55 left in the period, capitalizing on the rebound of a shot Kiprusoff couldn't cover up.

''In today's game, you have to be disciplined in the amount of penalties that you take," Edmonton coach Craig MacTavish said. "We ran into penalty trouble when we got waxed up in Edmonton by Calgary (in the pre-season). You have to be careful.''

''We were winning battles to the puck, moving our feet, and they were taking penalties and hooking us,'' Cogliano said. ''It could go either way, we've been on the other side a couple times this year and especially last year. But tonight we were moving our feet, playing well, and working hard.''

Ducks 4, Kings 0 | Video
Anaheim desperately needed somebody to step up after an 0-4-0 start. Jean-Sebastien Giguere gave them that clutch effort.

Giguere turned aside all 38 shots he faced and four different Ducks scored goals as Anaheim broke into the win column before a delighted Honda Center crowd while also sending San Jose to its first loss following four straight victories.

"It feels really good," said Giguere, who had gotten off to a rough start with 13 goals against in three games entering Friday. "It was a good night for us. We still have a lot of room for improvement, but this is a good start."
Defenseman Francois Beauchemin's goal with 1:47 left in the opening period was the only goal Giguere would need — but for good measure, the Ducks added scores from Travis Moen, Chris Pronger and Samuel Pahlsson. All four players scored for the first time this season. Rob Niedermayer had a pair of assists.

Giguere was spectacular over the first 40 minutes, making 32 saves while Anaheim gradually built him a comfortable lead. He was a key reason why the Ducks successfully killed off all seven Shark power plays, including a lengthy 5-on-3 during the first period with the game still scoreless.

"It was a big win for us," said Pronger, whose goal ended an 0-for-15 power-play drought to open the season. "It was desperate times, especially with the way we had played the first three games. Tonight, Jiggy held the fort when we ran into penalty trouble there early in the first."

The Sharks, who beat Anaheim 4-1 at San Jose last Thursday, took their first setback under new coach Todd McLellan in stride.

"We threw a lot of pucks at the net. We battled hard, I thought," center Joe Thornton said. "We just gave the puck up just a little too much. A lot of good things we can take out of tonight's game and bring it to tomorrow night's game."

Evgeni Nabokov stopped 16 shots in taking the loss for San Jose, which carried the play for much of the night and outshot the Ducks 38-20.

"I thought we came to play and played hard," McLellan said. "They worked really hard and earned their breaks and they earned a 4-0 win. It wasn't that we just mailed it in, we competed pretty hard and it just didn't go our way."

Kings 4, Hurricanes 3 (OT) | Video
Michal Handzus scored his second of the game 3:21 into overtime to complete a three-goal rally by Los Angeles at Staples Center.

Handzus, who opened the scoring 56 seconds into the first period, took advantage of a Carolina turnover in OT to notch the winning goal. He skated into the offensive zone and considered a pass to teammate Alexander Frolov before wristing a shot from the right circle past Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward.

"I just tried to hit the net and it went in," said Handzus, who has scored as many as 25 goals in a season but managed just seven in 82 games for the Kings in 2007-08 after missing most of the previous season due to a knee injury that required surgery. "I've been working hard in the offseason and I finally had a healthy summer for me, so I feel good."

Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar each scored his first of the season to bring the Kings back from a 3-1 deficit. Brown scored with 2:05 left in the second and Kopitar tallied midway through the third period to force overtime.

"That may have given them a little momentum," Carolina coach Peter Laviolette said about Brown's goal. "We talked about coming out strong and staying on our toes and on the attack in a third period but we didn't. We were sitting back a little too much and they evened it up."

Ryan Bayda, Dan Lacouture and Matt Cullen scored during a 6:20 span in the second, staking Carolina to a two-goal lead. Otherwise, Los Angeles goalie Jason LaBarbera was solid in making 23 saves, including a pad stop on a wide-open Eric Staal in overtime just prior to Handzus' goal.

"When you're up 3-1, there's no reason you should lose the game," Bayda said. "For whatever reason we came out a little flat in the third and they were jumping."

Los Angeles won its second straight, following a 6-3 victory over Anaheim on Tuesday.

"I think we played a good last game and we want to build on it and get better," Handzus said. "Obviously we got in a hole in the second, but we stuck to it and stuck together, and it's a big win."
Material from wire services and team broadcast and online media was used in this report.

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