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Sabres make it look easy

by John Kreiser / NHL.com

A few thoughts as we pause to salute Hall of Famer Ted Lindsay, who will be honored tonight in Detroit.

Simply brilliant — Hockey at the NHL level can't be as easy as Thomas Vanek and the Buffalo Sabres are making it look.

Both continued their season-opening hot streaks Monday night. Vanek had a goal and two assists as the Sabres improved to 4-0-0 with an easy 5-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks.

Vanek's goal was his sixth of the season — a total he didn't reach until the Sabres' 21st game last season. He has five goals in his last three games.

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

Vanek finished strong last season after a slow start. Coach Lindy Ruff has given him more responsibility this season, and Vanek is flourishing.

"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."

His teammates have noticed the difference.

"I think he has more confidence," said teammate Ales Kotalik, who scored a third-period goal on an assist from Vanek. "He's cleaned up some little stuff, and now he's a real fine player."

But Vanek is trying to play down his contribution while talking up the success of the team.

"I'm not carrying the team, everyone is playing well right now," he said. "It's a lot of team effort; a lot of guys are doing little things that don’t get noticed in the paper."

Welcome back, Alfie — Some quick healing and a fortunate break in the schedule meant that arthroscopic knee surgery cost Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson just one game.

Alfredsson had the surgery after the Senators came back from splitting two games with Pittsburgh in Stockholm as part of Bridgestone NHL Premiere 2008. He missed last Saturday's game against Detroit, but was back for Friday's game home against Phoenix — and the difference was obvious.

Alfredsson had a pair of assists and linemate Jason Spezza scored twice and set up two other goals in a 6-3 victory.

"He definitely has a different body than everybody else — I've never seen a guy healing as quick as he does," said goalie Martin Gerber, who stopped 34 shots.

Alfredsson set up goals by linemates Spezza and Dany Heatley 3:08 apart late in the first to put Ottawa up 3-0. He had arthroscopic surgery one week earlier to remove the bone chip that had become dislodged during the series in his native country.

"I feel better now, I guess, than I did before even because I had a little bit of grinding in the knee that I don't feel now, so that's obviously a positive," said Alfredsson, who said he'd play Saturday against Boston.

Phoenix center Olli Jokinen said he wasn't surprised to see Alfredsson.

There's a reason why he's the captain, why he's an elite player in this League," said Jokinen, who was Florida's captain before he was traded to the Coyotes during the June entry draft. "He carries a lot of the load on that team and he leads by example."

Kid stuff — Maybe all the Columbus Blue Jackets needed to beat their biggest nemesis was a dose of youth.

Nashville was 15-0-1 against the Blue Jackets when the Predators rolled into Columbus for the Jackets' home opener. But after Rick Nash gave Columbus an early lead, rookies Jakub Voracek and Nikita Filatov scored eight seconds apart as the Jackets beat Nashville 5-3.

The victory ended Nashville's string of 16 consecutive games with a point against Columbus — the longest active streak in an NHL regular-season series.

"To be honest, I really don't care. As far as I'm concerned I'm 1-0 as a Blue Jacket against Nashville," said another newcomer, offseason free-agent signee Mike Commodore. "I know a lot of past times were tough and they obviously dominated the series and that counts for something; good for them. But as far as I'm concerned ... I really don't care."

Filatov, the Jackets' first-round pick in this year's Entry Draft, was recalled before the game and got his first NHL goal, one-timing Fredrik Modin's pass from the slot — then celebrated with a fist pump while gliding to the boards on one knee.

Hockey at the NHL level was a whole new experience for the Russian teenager.

"I know a lot of past times were tough and they obviously dominated the series and that counts for something; good for them. But as far as I'm concerned ... I really don't care." -- Blue Jackets defenseman Mike Commodore

"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."

Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock was also impressed with Filatov.

"He's got great skill and great speed, he's really dynamic," Hitchcock said. "You have to fast track him without overwhelming him. He brings his youthful enthusiasm and energy, and all he needs is one crack at it and he’s going to score. He's played four professional hockey games and four goals – that's impressive."

Cheers for ValleySteve Valiquette of the New York Rangers is the quintessential NHL backup goalie — ready to play when needed while knowing that he's going to be spending most of his time watching someone else in net.

What little work Valiquette gets comes mostly on the road; Henrik Lundqvist almost always plays at Madison Square Garden. But for one night, it was Valiquette who heard the cheers of the Garden faithful after stopping 21 shots and making two more saves in the shootout to give the Rangers a 1-0 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Valiquette

He basked in the chants of "Vall-ey" after getting enough of Jason Blake's shot to deflect it off the post, giving the Rangers the win.

"It gave me goose bumps. Now I know how Henrik feels," Valiquette, an Ontario native, said after his 11th NHL win and third shutout. Three of the wins have come against the Leafs, the team he grew up watching.

Despite his heroics and the cheers they earned, Valiquette has no illusions about his job. He expects to be back on the bench when the Rangers play in Detroit tonight.

"I really want to feel as comfortable as possible in this rink," Valiquette said. "I know that my job and my role on the team is to be ready at all times. I have to add value to the team, no matter if I'm starting or I'm supporting."

Though the Rangers outshot Toronto 32-21 and completely dominated the third period, coach Tom Renney praised Valiquette's contribution.

"Tonight he had to make some stellar saves in order for us to win this hockey game," Renney said. "As dominant as I think we were in that third period, he still had to make big saves on difficult chances where we had left him alone to take care of things."

Penalties, killing — The Calgary Flames' parade to the penalty box came at a price: two points.

The Flames gave Edmonton five power plays in the second period and the Oilers turned three of them into goals — enough to give them a 4-3 victory in the first half of this weekend's edition of the Battle of Alberta.

''It's tough when we've got to kill five, six, seven penalties in a row,'' Calgary forward Todd 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.''

"We have to stay out of the box and figure a way to draw more penalties. We didn't do that tonight." -- Calgary Flames captain Jarome Iginla

The Oilers did just that, as Eric Cole, Lubomir Visnovsky and Robert Nilsson connected against Miikka Kiprusoff.

"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 preseason). You have to be careful."

The Flames know they have to stay out of the penalty box in the rematch tonight at Rexall Place in Edmonton.

"We have to stay out of the box and figure a way to draw more penalties. We didn't do that tonight," Flames captain Jarome Iginla said.

The happiest Oiler was rookie goaltender Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers, who made 26 saves to win his NHL debut.

"It's always something special when you have your first NHL start. You think you know what to expect but it's something very different, the feeling is unbelievable," the 24-year-old said. "'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."

Giguere

Getting' Jiggy — This was the Jean-Sebastien Giguere the Anaheim Ducks were used to.

Giguere struggled in his first three starts this season, allowing 13 goals while losing all three. But he looked like his old self against the previously unbeaten San Jose Sharks, stopping all 38 shots he faced in a 4-0 victory that gave the Ducks their first win in five games.

"It feels really good," Giguere said. "It was a good night for us. We still have a lot of room for improvement, but this is a good start."

It's been a tough first week of the season for the Ducks and their star goaltender. The 2007 Cup winners have been unable to kill penalties or stay out of the box, and Giguere hasn't bailed them out.

Until Friday. The Sharks carried the play for most of the night but were unable to get anything past Giguere.

"I’ve been working pretty hard in practice," Giguere said. "Eventually, these things are going to turn around. I believe that you create your own luck and that the bounces are eventually going to go your way. Tonight, the bounces went my way."

Anaheim's task now is to build on the win when Carolina comes to the Honda Center on Sunday.

"We got our first win and we’re happy with it," Giguere said. "The last game (a 3-2 loss to Edmonton) was a starting point. Now we just have to keep going forward and try to put some good games together."

Handzus

Happy Handzus — The Los Angeles Kings made a four-year commitment to Michal Handzus in the summer of 2007. They may be about to get some reward on their investment.

Handzus scored 56 seconds into the Kings' game against Carolina, then got the winner at 3:21 of overtime to give Los Angeles a 4-3 victory over the Hurricanes.

The 31-year-old center struggled in his first season with Los Angeles, scoring just seven goals and adding 14 assists for 21 points. However, he did play all 82 games after missing most of 2006-07 after undergoing surgery to repair a torn knee ligament.

"I worked hard in the offseason and finally had a healthy summer," Handzus said after scoring his first two goals of the season.

Handzus had a pair of 20-goal seasons with Philadelphia in 2002-03 and 2003-04. Since then, he's struggled both to score and stay healthy.

But he's settled in as the No. 2 center between Alexander Frolov and Oscar Moller, earning time on the power play and the penalty kill. He now has two goals and two assists in four games — it took him 16 games to get four points last season.

Coach Terry Murray says Handzus is "a newer player, a fresher player." The Kings are hoping he's the player they thought they were getting when they committed a lot of years and money 16 months ago.

Material from wire services and team online and broadcast media was used in this report.

Contact John Kreiser at jkreiser@nhl.com



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