BUFFALO – With three straight pointless games entering this afternoon’s tilt against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Sabres superstar Thomas Vanek is struggling a bit for the first time this season.
Still, the slick winger’s 11-goal, 23-point start has been dynamic. Count Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby among those who’ve noticed Vanek’s exploits.
“I’m pretty aware of how consistent he’s been,” Crosby said Saturday after the Penguins prepared for the Sabres inside the First Niagara Center.
In Crosby’s mind, what makes Vanek so good?
“I think there’s a lot of different things,” Crosby explained. “He’s got a great shot. He doesn’t need much time or space to put the puck in the net. He goes to the tough areas. He’ll go to the front of the net and score those gritty goals that you have to score. He’s patient. Sometimes he’ll hold the puck it seems like forever and then dish it off or find some way to kind of tuck it around the goalie.
“So his patience, when I think of him as a player, the patience that he has really sticks out in my mind.”
Sabres defenseman Andrej Sekera, who left Friday’s 4-2 win over Boston after suffering a charley horse midway through the third period, will likely be out today.
“He’s doing OK today,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. “I’d say doubtful for (the Penguins.)”
It’s likely Mike Weber will return to the lineup after getting scratched Friday.
Afternoon games are becoming regular for the Sabres. They’ve already played four of the nine on their 48-game schedule.
“I think you just get used to them,” Ruff said. “I know that some players like them. From our standpoint, we’ve never had a lot of them, never had a lot of them here. But I look at it like we play a game early, get to enjoy the rest of the day. You come to the rink ready to play right off the bat. You don’t have that extra trip. So it’s a quicker day.”
Ruff, whose Sabres are playing on NBC today as part of “Hockey Day in America,” recalling what the team’s legendary trainer said to the Sabres’ other Americans in the early 1980s: “Frank Christie, who was one of the greatest, used to tell (Phil) Housley and (Mike) Ramsey, ‘You know, us Americans got to stick together.’”
The Sabres have seven Americans on the roster now.
Notes: The Bruins have allowed eight third-period goals all season. Seven have come against the Sabres. … Ruff moved assistant coach Teppo Numminen, a former defenseman, behind the bench Friday, something he had tried once earlier. “Part of it was we went with a little different game plan,” Ruff said. “I wanted him to be able to talk to players after shifts.”