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VANEK'S WORK ETHIC PAYING DIVIDENDS

by Erin Pollina / Buffalo Sabres
 Thomas Vanek  (Photo: Getty Images)
A quick start was something Thomas Vanek desperately needed.


With the combination of low production and lofty expectations in the 2007-08 season, the winger took harsh criticism after scoring only 12 goals through his first 41 games.

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Heading into the 2008-09 campaign, the winger has undoubtedly shaken things up, currently leading the NHL with five goals (tied with Marc Savard) in only three games.

“Sometimes the puck bounces your way a little bit, but at the same time I feel like we’re playing well at both ends of the ice. Right now I’m just getting rewarded,” Vanek said.

In addition to paying dividends on the stat sheet, Vanek is also being rewarded by head coach Lindy Ruff.

Stating early in the season that the harder Vanek worked, the more ice time he would get, Ruff has held true to his word, allotting the winger an average of 20:14 minutes per game – a step up from the 16:51 he averaged last year.

The increase in shifts has led to more responsibility on special teams as well, as Vanek has been a crucial part of the Sabres penalty kill. The 24 year old has tallied consecutive short-handed scores in the past two games- becoming the first Buffalo forward to accomplish the feat since Curtis Brown in 2003.

“We wanted to turn him into a penalty killer and he’s becoming a weapon on the other side of it too,” Ruff said. “We want to keep the focus on let’s make sure we kill the penalties first and the short-handed goals will come, but it was great to see him get those two opportunities and to put them away.”

Now Ruff wants Vanek to continue to fine-tune his game and keep his production high.

“It’s not very often that I talk to players about goal scoring, but it really is about improving habits that will lead to the end result,” Ruff said. “Some little habits inside of his game are getting better. There is still some work to do and we are going to continue to harp on those little areas.

“I think I always use the term feet movement. When his feet aren’t moving I think there are some areas of his game that aren’t very good. When he pays attention to detail and gets underneath people and is able to be effective away from the puck as he is with it, he’s made some strides.”

“I try to get better,” Vanek said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re 24 years old or 35 years old. You still have to have the mentality that you want to get better. Otherwise you’re a step behind.

“I feel like I’m getting into my own right now and hopefully I can stay on this streak and we can keep winning games.

“It’s not going to last the whole 82 games,” Vanek said. “But so far it’s nice.”

VANEK STATCOUNT
Vanek is one of four players to start the season by scoring goals in his team’s first three games. The other three are: Simone Gagne, Brad Boyes and Keith Tkachuk.... This marks the fastest start to a season in his career with the Sabres, his previous best was six goals in his first 10 games to start the 2006-07 season when he finished with 43 goals... In 2005-06 Vanek did not score a goal until the 15th game of the season and last year he scored three times in his first 10 games... Vanek now has 13 goals in his last 13 games dating back to last season.


INJURY UPDATE:

Ruff addressed the injury status of both Tim Connolly (back) and Jochen Hecht (finger) on Thursday:

Connolly:
 
“We’re waiting really for some of the pain to subside before he skates again. I said it would be about a week [before he returns] and hopefully it’s still around that mark.”

Hecht:

“That [Hecht's two-week time table for return] easily can vary. I don’t think it will be shorter than that, but it could be longer. Again with him, it will be pain tolerance when he gets back."

Although Gaustad practiced with the team in New York yesterday, he was absent from practice on Thursday at HSBC Arena.
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