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Sabres have it their way Defense is the key to third straight win Vanek continues fast start with league-leading fifth goal

The defense and goaltending are in lockdown mode. The special teams are dominating. Thomas Vanek has capitalized on more ice time and burst from the starting gate with an NHL-leading five goals.

This is exactly the kind of start the Buffalo Sabres spent all of training camp hoping for. Wednesday's 3-1 win over the New York Rangers in Madison Square Garden was one of those solid efforts that coaches draw up on wipe boards and only hope come to fruition.

The Rangers were trying to start the season 6-0 for the first time in their long history. Instead, it was the Sabres who made a dent in their record books.

Buffalo improved to 3-0 for just the fourth time in its 38 seasons and stands as the only perfect team in the Eastern Conference.

The Sabres were also 3-0 in 2006-07 (when they tied the NHL record with 10 straight wins to start the season), 1975-76 (8-0) and 1994-95 (3-0).

How is this happening? Defense. Three goals-against is the fewest in franchise history for the first three games of a season. An appropriate backdrop for coach Lindy Ruff's 400th career victory.

"We've had good goaltending, a lot of guys commit to being in shot lanes and doing little things that are conducive to keeping goals-against down," Ruff said. "We haven't given up breakaways or what you'd call 'naked chances' where you ask your goaltender to come up with a tremendous save."

The Sabres were outshot, 20-18, in the game but the Rangers had just nine shots in the first two periods -- none for a span of 19 minutes, 45 seconds after Scott Gomez's deflection beat Ryan Miller at 6:32 of the first. Ales Kotalik and Vanek scored second-period power-play goals, breaking the Rangers' perfect run of penalty kills this season at 23 straight.

Vanek then added a short-handed tally -- his second in two games -- at 1:10 of the third period to essentially put the game away. The crowd of 18,200 grumbled and booed its way through the rest of the game.

Vanek had just three goals in the first 10 games last year and only 13 in his first 50 contests. He's nearly halfway there.

"I feel good all over the ice," Vanek said. "I worked hard in the summer, just like I did in the summers before. I came in good shape and Lindy is giving me more of a role on this team. So far, so good."

Vanek broke a 1-1 tie at 12:30 of the second period, popping in the rebound of a Derek Roy slapshot after they broke in on a two-on-one. Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist got a lot of puck with his arm but it dropped in the crease to his left and Vanek tapped it in before it could be covered.

The Sabres' 2-1 lead was quickly in jeopardy at the start of the third, when Craig Rivet took a four-minute high-sticking penalty after 14 seconds. This was the Rangers' big chance to tie. Instead, it turned into Buffalo's time for a back-breaker.

The big moment came at 1:10 as Vanek and Daniel Paille broke in on a two-on-one. Paille streaked down the left wing, drew the defenseman and threaded a perfect pass to Vanek coming down the slot. Vanek made no mistake with a quick shot to give Buffalo a two-goal cushion.

"Pie-zie was almost ready to shoot it there," Vanek said. "Thank God I yelled loud enough for him and he made a great pass."

"He did a great job sensing we had them on a little counter play on the first goal and sensed Danny would create something for him up ice on the other," Ruff said. "Those guys have developed chemistry as penalty killers and with Thomas as a weapon."

The Sabres have five power-play goals the last two games. They killed off all five penalties against them -- and are 15 for 15 this season.

They also snapped the Rangers' string of 23 straight penalty kills on Kotalik's goal at 5:03 of the second, as he pushed home a loose puck after Lundqvist made the initial save off Teppo Numminen.



Sabres 3 NY Rangers 1

Slap shots: Sabres improve to 3-0 for just the fourth time in franchise history to give Ruff his 400th career win. ... Vanek scores two (one short-handed) to push NHL-leading goal total to five. ... Rangers manage just nine shots in first two periods.

Fast fact: The Rangers were 23 for 23 in penalty killing this season until Ales Kotalik's second-period goal.

Next game: Friday vs. Vancouver Canucks, 7:30 p.m. in HSBC Arena

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