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Revived Vanek unlocks Buffalo's struggling offense

by John Manasso
ATLANTA – With goals at a premium for the Buffalo Sabres in the early going of the 2010-11 season, the beautiful slapper that Thomas Vanek put in the Atlanta net Wednesday night proved to be a sight for sore eyes.

Only one team in the League had scored fewer goals per game than the Sabres entering Wednesday's games and concerns about Buffalo's ability to generate offense were starting to rear their ugly heads.

But, after a 4-1 victory against the Thrashers Wednesday night, Buffalo fans were resting easier -- especially because Vanek found his way into the goals column.

Vanek, the Sabres' leading goals-scorer for the last four seasons, finally broke his scoring slump in Buffalo's seventh game with a beautiful slap shot from the right circle; a pure goal-scorer's goal.

Earlier in the night, he had what would have been his first goal disallowed, as the officials ruled he played the puck with a high stick.

But, Vanek was one of three Sabres who scored their first goal of the season Wednesday night. He'll look to start a scoring streak Friday when the Sabres host the Ottawa Senators (7:30 p.m., SNET-E (HD),MSG-B (HD)).

"Yeah, he's been champing," Sabres goalie Ryan Miller said. "He's been really close on a few. He's hit some posts. That high stick earlier in the game. He was kind of looking towards the sky there.

"He's somebody more than most people who takes it hard when things aren't going his way and it's finally good to see things shake out for him."

In charting the 26-year-old's goals totals year after year, a roller-coaster pattern certainly manifests itself: 25, 43, 36, 40 and last season's 28.

Could that mean, then, that despite the slow start, Vanek could be headed back to the 40-goal mark for the third time in his career?

That's hard to say. But Vanek seemed happy after Wednesday's win that the monkey was off his back.

"It's frustrating," he said. "It's especially frustrating when you're losing."

After starting the season with 14 shots in three games (though he was a minus-4 during that span), Vanek collected only five shots in the three games before Wednesday.

Sabres coach Lindy Ruff was pleased not only that Vanek scored, but also that he shot the puck more against Atlanta. The left wing had three shots to go with two attempts that missed the net.

Asked what went wrong the first six games, Vanek said, "Pucks just didn't go in," trying to shrug off the lack of production with a laugh.

So, as Miller pointed out, Vanek's goal Wednesday came as a relief.

"Ah, it feels nice," Vanek said. "I feel like I've been playing pretty good, getting some chances and one finally went in."

For a Buffalo team that has thrived in recent years on team scoring, Wednesday was a break-out night, especially because two other key performers also tallied their first goals of the season.

Tyler Myers, who had been a team-worst minus-7, got on the board with a point shot that deflected into the net on a power play and finished with an even rating. After 11 goals and 48 points last season put him in the Calder Trophy conversation, Myers picked up only his second point of the season in the form of the goal -- his first point since Buffalo's opener.

Another Tyler, Tyler Ennis, also earned his first goal of the season. Ennis, a 2008 first-round pick, was a prolific scorer in the Western Hockey League and recorded 23 last season in the American Hockey League, so he also would seem to figure prominently in Buffalo's scoring plans this season.

Ruff noted that shortly after Ennis scored in the first period, he had another golden opportunity.

"Again, I'll say this: The last game (a 4-3 loss at Chicago) we doubled up the opportunities and we dominated the game but lost," he said Wednesday night. "Tonight, we took advantage of our opportunities and ended up winning.

"I think the workload that's gone into the last two games has been excellent. The results in the previous games wasn't.You focus on things that you think will make you a better team. Hopefully, with some players getting on the score sheet, it should help us on the offensive side."

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