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Thursday, October 16, 2008
Point Shots: Ride those Sabres while they're hot

By Jim Wilkie
Special to ESPN.com

A 3-0 start with 12 goals scored by Buffalo and just three allowed will naturally increase interest in Sabres players. Even with centers Jochen Hecht, Tim Connolly and Paul Gaustad out with injury, the Sabres are exhibiting an impressive amount of depth at forward beyond the usual suspects whom were scooped up in fantasy drafts.

Left winger Thomas Vanek's second consecutive two-goal game helped Buffalo drop the Rangers 3-1 on Wednesday night and gave him a league-leading five goals (tied with Boston's Marc Savard). Thanks to offseason training and an increased role which includes penalty killing, Vanek is on his way to giving the Sabres their money's worth for the seven-year, $50 million contract he signed last summer when Buffalo matched Edmonton's offer sheet.

"I told him if he worked hard and kept his legs moving, he would see penalty-killing time," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff told the Associated Press after Vanek scored a short-handed goal and power-play goal in Monday's 7-1 victory over the Islanders. "My goal is to make him the best two-way player in hockey, and he has the potential to do that."

Two nights later, Vanek had another shorty and power-play marker against the Rangers. Strangely enough, linemates Derek Roy (two assists through three games) and Drew Stafford (no points) have not been piggybacking a lot of points from Vanek because of his prolific output on special teams.

Jason Pominville
Jason Pominville is a big part of the Sabres' upstart offense.

While the top line has remained intact, the second and third lines keep producing despite changes caused by injuries. After Hecht was hurt in Monday's game, Clarke Macarthur has a goal and an assist since moving up to center the second line between Jason Pominville and Daniel Paille. The steady Pominville, who racked up 80 points last season, has a goal and three assists while Paille has three assists in three games and has also made a big impression by stepping up his physical game.

It's not your typical energy line on the third unit, which has featured the skilled Ales Kotalik (two goals, two assists) and enigmatic Maxim Afinogenov (two assists) between Adam Mair (one goal), who was moved up because of a hairline fracture in one of Connoly's vertebrae.

Vanek, Roy and Pominville should already be taken in your leagues, but any of the other healthy top-nine forwards, except Mair, are worth considering while the Sabres ride this hot streak.

A nice Ty for Red Wings

Red Wings backup netminder Ty Conklin had a solid debut for his new team Monday night, stopping 27 of 28 shots in Detroit's 3-1 victory over Carolina and impressing coach Mike Babcock.

"We didn't want to wait because he's new to our program," Babcock told the Detroit Free Press about starting Conklin in the team's third game of the season. "It was more just about this guy getting the weight of the world off early. Now next time he plays he'll feel real good, and that puts us in a good situation. He did a good job for us."

The Free Press said Babcock should start Chris Osgood and Conklin on a two-to-one ratio, so keep an eye on the Red Wings' schedule and consider working Conklin into your rotation to help your goaltending categories.

Detroit line changes

Mikael Samuelsson
The Red Wings want Mikael Samuelsson to focus more on putting the puck in the net this season.

Red Wings center Henrik Zetterberg left practice at Joe Louis Arena on Wednesday with a slight groin strain and might miss Thursday night's game against the Canucks, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Even if he does play, his line will be revamped with Mikael Samuelsson moving up to join Zetterberg and Johan Franzen. Jiri Hudler will join Dan Cleary and Valtteri Filppula, according to The Free Press.

"When Huds plays with those guys, all he does is pass them the puck. He's always deferring to Z and deferring to Franzen," Babcock told The Free Press. "I think he's a good offensive player. I want him to shoot the puck. If he plays with Fil and Cleary, he'll shoot the puck.

"And to me, Sammy's a big, strong guy who can really skate and really make plays," Babcock added.

Teen's time

Just in time for the Blue Jackets' home opener Friday against the Predators, first-round pick Nikita Filatov (sixth overall) is back up from the minors.

Tough guy Jared Boll's head and neck injury opened the door for Filatov, who got a late start to training camp because of a hairline fracture in his right leg but finished strong with one goal and a shootout game-winner in two preseason games.

Filatov, 18, scored two goals and was a plus-1 in two games with the AHL's Syracuse Crunch before his promotion.

An all-rookie line of Filatov, center Derick Brassard, 21, and right winger Jakub Voracek, 19, would be a crowd-pleaser. But no word whether conservative head coach Ken Hitchcock will make that trio possible by dropping Jason Chimera down to the third line.

Filatov has also been mourning the death of his good friend Alexei Cherepanov, a former teammate and Rangers prospect who collapsed and couldn't be revived during a game in Russia's Continental Hockey League. There's no telling how those strong emotions combined with the adrenaline of his first NHL game in the Jackets' season opener will translate on the ice.

"Nikita is the most confident 18-year-old I've ever met," Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson told The Columbus Dispatch. "He feels like he can play in the NHL right now."

Alfredsson heals fast

Senators coach Craig Hartsburg told the Ottawa media that captain Daniel Alfredsson might be back sooner than expected from last week's arthroscopic knee surgery, perhaps as soon as Friday against Phoenix or Saturday against Boston.

Alfie was expected to miss 10 to 14 days when he went under the knife last Friday, but he was back on skates Tuesday.

Nick Foligno
Nick Foligno is getting a shot at playing with two-thirds of Ottawa's Big Three.

If the Senators are more cautious and keep their captain out a bit longer, the consensus is that Nick Foligno has earned a shot at playing on the top line with Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley.

Foligno, 20, has one goal in three games this season.

Jesse Winchester drops down to the second line with Antoine Vermette and Mike Fisher, who didn't play until Ottawa's third game of the season because of a groin injury.

Hartsburg said Martin Gerber will start against Phoenix, but he'll wait until after that game to decide Saturday's starter. If Gerber has a strong game, Hartsburg told the Ottawa Sun he might stick with him to help him get on a roll. But if Gerber doesn't perform well, Alex Auld will likely get his second start of the season.

A very intriguing matchup

There might be some big penalty minutes to be had from selected players involved in tonight's game between the Stars and Blues.

In the preseason, Sean Avery reportedly made some disparaging personal remark about Blues coach Andy Murray, who coached Avery with the Kings from 2003 to 2006. If you've got some deadwood in your lineup it could be worth giving Blues tough guy Cam Janssen a one-night stint.

Jim Wilkie is a former NHL editor/writer for ESPN.com.