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Special teams lead the way in hot streak

The Buffalo Sabres are big believers in positive thinking leading to positive results. So with that in mind, it's obvious they are positively giddy about their special teams.

The Sabres' season of dominance continued in Friday night's 5-2 victory over Vancouver. The penalty killers remained perfect, going 3 for 3 to improve to 18 for 18 this season. The power-play unit scored the game's first two goals, giving it seven through four games.

"They're feeding off each other," coach Lindy Ruff said. "It's fun when special teams get on a roll because you take a lot of pride -- night in, night out -- on not giving up anything, or on the power play trying to get one every night."

Both units were in the NHL's top 10 for most of last year, but they've taken their production even higher.

"It's getting on a roll, like winning games and getting good things happening to you," said defenseman Teppo Numminen, a member of both units. "You play more relaxed and you're ready to react. Things are bouncing for us now, and I think that's where we get confidence from on both sides."

Numminen, who has assists in each of the four games, was one of six players to get a power-play point Friday. Meanwhile, 10 players saw significant short-handed time. The great start has truly become a team effort.

"You've got to give them a pretty good nod just for the desperation they've used," Ruff said. "We've been tough on entries, made it tough to get in the zone, and we're trying to put on as much pressure as we can."

The only pressure on the Sabres is to see which unit -- the power play or the penalty kill -- can stay hottest longest.

"You take a lot of pride in it," Ruff said. "You build momentum."

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The Sabres, with three of their top centers out, have been struggling with faceoffs. They got blitzed in their previous two games in New York by a combined 67-43. They split the draws, 24-24, Friday.

But Derek Roy won the second draw of the game, and six seconds later the Sabres had a 1-0 lead. He beat Ryan Johnson, and Andrej Sekera fed across the blue line to Jaroslav Spacek, who one-timed a blast past goaltender Curtis Sanford. It was just how a coach draws it up.

Thing is, because of the recent beatings the absence of Jochen Hecht, Paul Gaustad and Tim Connolly, Ruff isn't drawing up plans for faceoff victories. He's planning to coach the team on how to react to losses.

"If we're losing more than we're winning, we have to anticipate that and be ready for pressure and may go right into a forecheck mode," Ruff said. "Sometimes that's just as tough on the other team as winning faceoffs."

Forecheck mode involves the wingers charging at the defensemen right at the drop of the puck in the belief the faceoff is coming back to the blue-liners.

***

Patrick Kaleta did it again, drawing the ire of the opponent and drawing a penalty. The Sabres right winger bumped Shane O'Brien, and the Vancouver defenseman dropped his gloves and repeatedly punched Kaleta, who didn't fight back. The Sabres earned a four-minute play, and O'Brien earned a reprimand from his coach.

"We had written on the board, I can't pronounce 36's name, but that all he does is talks and doesn't fight," Alain Vigneault said. "It was written on the board, and you're supposed to read the board and not put your team in trouble, and obviously he didn't."

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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