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Sabres keep Isles at arm's length Buffalo improves to 2-0, having little trouble on Long Island with Lalime in net

Lindy Ruff wasn't kidding Sunday when he said backup goaltender Patrick Lalime was going to see some action "sooner rather than later." Sooner become Monday afternoon in the Buffalo Sabres' second game of the season.

So with Ryan Miller watching and everyone else in a Buffalo uniform probably wondering how this would work out, Lalime did just fine.

Lalime made 23 saves in his Buffalo debut and got more than enough offense on his behalf as the Sabres skewered the New York Islanders, 7-1, before 13,523 in Nassau Coliseum.

"I'm real happy," Ruff said. "It was an easy decision to make because he played so well in his last two exhibitions in training camp. We didn't want to wait two weeks before we got him in. . . . He played a great game."

Thomas Vanek scored twice in a four-goal second period for the Sabres, including a short-handed tally that was the first of his NHL career.

Jochen Hecht, Adam Mair, Jason Pominville, Ales Kotalik and Clarke MacArthur all added their firsts of the season. The Buffalo power play connected three times. Trent Hunter spoiled Lalime's shutout bid with 14:39 to play.

Negatives? Just about none. The only real downer was an injury suffered by Hecht early in the second period, believed to be to his hand or wrist. He did not return and that leaves the 2-0 Sabres pretty thin at center with Tim Connolly (back) still out.

Lalime was a 16-game winner last year in Chicago -- solid for a backup on a nonplayoff team. And it's certainly better than what the Sabres got from Jocelyn Thibault, who lost Ruff's faith after wipeouts in Los Angeles and Phoenix, forcing Miller into 34 straight starts.

"This is huge," said captain Craig Rivet. "I think we really wanted to rally around Patty to get him his first win. He's a super team guy and we certainly wanted to work for him."

Lalime set a quick tone when he stoned Mike Comrie from the slot a little more than two minutes into the first period.

"Those saves make momentum," Lalime said. "It's my job to do that. I may not see a lot of action but I have to be ready when I'm called on."

"For both parties, it was a great save," Ruff said. "It frustrates the home team and we got the big save we needed."

The Islanders didn't get many from backup Joey MacDonald, who fought the puck all day and gave up several fat rebounds. The Sabres broke through against him at 10:05 of the first when Hecht banked a shot in off the goalie's right leg from behind the goal line.

Lalime set up that whole sequence by stopping Frans Nielsen twice from point-blank range a few seconds earlier.

The Islanders had a couple good shifts at the start of the second period and Lalime again held the fort. Then the offense took over as Mair scored at 2:21, driving home a rebound of a soft Maxim Afinogenov shot that MacDonald flubbed with his glove and left in the slot.

"You've got to get pucks to the net," Mair said. "Max threw a floater shot on net that handcuffed him and I was just able to get up there and beat my guy to the puck in the slot."

The floodgates blew open after Vanek scored at 7:00, driving home a Daniel Paille rebound while Kotalik was in the box for interference.

"It was exciting," Vanek said. "I thought we did a good job on [the penalty kill]. I felt comfortable out there and I hope I can stay on it."

The Sabres, meanwhile, figure to stay on their schedule of giving Lalime regular work. Figure Lalime to start either Friday at home against Vancouver or Saturday at Atlanta.

Lalime said he knew over the weekend he was getting the call Monday. So does he already know which game is next? He was playing coy again but a big smile told a tale.

"I don't know. Really," Lalime insisted. "I guess we'll see."

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com

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