The Buffalo Sabres didn't need to worry about spreading the ice time evenly throughout their depleted blueline. Monday night, the Sabres offense made defense the last thing on anyone's mind.
For the second time this season, Buffalo exploded for six unanswered goals in the second period and saw 14 different players score as the team steamrolled the Tampa Bay Lightning 7-2 at HSBC Arena.
"We came into that second period and just started moving the puck really quickly," said rookie Daniel Paille, who set a career-high with a pair of assists after being recalled from Rochester Monday morning. "When we got a shot on net, it seemed like most of the time it went in."
Paul Gaustad led the Sabres with a career night, scoring two goals and adding an assist. Ales Kotalik set a new career mark with three assists and Thomas Vanek scored a pair of goals.
Rounding out the goal scoring for Buffalo was Jiri Novotny, Jaroslav Spacek and Chris Drury. Maxim Afinogenov added two assists, giving him five points (2+3) since returning from injury three games ago.
"That's the good thing about our team, everybody can chip in from first to fourth line," said Gaustad. "It's something that we've depended on for the last couple of years."
The victory comes on the heals of Buffalo's second loss to the Ottawa Senators this season, a 4-1 thumping at home.
"We pride ourselves on the fact that if we are going to lose a game, we're going to adjust and not lose two in a row," said goaltender Ryan Miller, who recorded his 10th victory of the season with 17 saves. "To a man in this locker room, we felt like we all could be better. That accountability kind of comes with the expectations that are out there this year."
That accountability has also pushed Buffalo to the top of the Eastern Conference standings with a 17-3-1 record and 35 points. Buffalo has not lost back-to-back games this season and has posted an average margin of victory of 2.6 goals in the game following a regulation loss.
"We're going to have some stretches where things don't go our way and where we struggle, but to answer a call and play a solid game is great to see," said Miller.
"That's why we never give up on games when we're down two or three goals in the third period," said Gaustad. "We know we have that explosive offense. If we stick to our game, we know we are going to get our chances."
Martin St. Louis redirected Cory Sarich's slapshot from the point over Miller's right pad for the first goal of the game at 15:56 of the first.
Gaustad scored his fourth goal of the season after backhanding Maxim Afinogenov's rebound off Marc Denis' back and tied the game 1-1 at 1:14 of the second. .
Novotny scores his fourth of the season after deflecting Paille's slapshot from the high slot at 2:17.
Vanek expanded Buffalo's lead to a pair of goals at 7:48 after one-timing Nathan Paetsch's shot that rebounded off the boards shortside.
Off a tic-tac-toe play, Gaustad nets his second of the game at 10:49 to make the score 4-1 in favor of Buffalo. Skating down the right wing, Paille faked a shot and slid an across-ice pass to Dmitri Kalinin, who fired the puck to Gaustad cutting down the slot for the easy chip shot and a new career high for goals scored in a game.
Spacek's shot from the point deflected off Tampa Bay defenseman Ryan Craig for his third goal of the season at 11:13 to make the score 5-1. With the primary assist, Michael Funk records the first point of his NHL career.
Kotalik intercepted a clearing pass at Tampa Bay's blueline, faked a shot and slipped the puck to Vanek at the left post for the one-timer into the wide-open net and the Austrian's second goal of the night at 14:02.
On a three-on-two rush, Chris Drury deflected Kotalik's one-timer off Drew Stafford's across-ice pass at 17:19 to make the score 7-1 in favor of Buffalo. The goal was Drury's 12th of the season.