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Hot start nets Vanek league honors

Buffalo Sabres left wing Thomas Vanek was named the NHL's first star Monday after scoring six goals and eight points in leading his team to a 3-0-1 record for the week ending Sunday. His seven goals overall were the most by any player in franchise history the first five games of the season.

What did it all mean to the high-scoring winger?

"Not much," Vanek said. "It's nice. It shows you that you had a good start, obviously, but at the same time I'm a lot more happy with where the team is at five games into the season. That's the main focus."

Minnesota goalie Nicklas Backstrom was named the second star after posting three victories and a 1.30 GAA. Dallas rookie Fabian Brunnstrom was third star after becoming the third player in history to record a hat trick in his NHL debut. Montreal's Alex Smart in 1943 and Quebec's Real Cloutier in 1979 were the others.

Vanek is off to the best start of his four-year career. He has scored in each of the Sabres' first five games, including two shorthanded tallies, and has nine points on the season.

He didn't score seven goals last season until Dec. 3, his 24th game of the year, en route to 36 goals and 64 points. Vanek has 15 goals in 15 games going back to last season.

"I know how quickly it goes the other way," Vanek said. "It's nice, but I know how hard it is to stay on top of the game. I'm going to try to stay on top of it."

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Patrick Kaleta, Ryan Miller, Daniel Paille, Jason Pominville, Derek Roy and Drew Stafford participated in a photo shoot with Derek Andrews, the 8-year-old from Clarence who was named Sports Kid of the Year by Sports Illustrated Kids.

Derek mugged for photos while wearing his hockey equipment and jersey from the Amherst Knights. He is scheduled to appear on the cover in a December issue that's also expected to include a story about him. He visited practice Monday with his mother, Patricia, and his younger brother, Sean, wearing an SI Kid of the Year varsity jacket.

After rattling off his favorite players, he was asked to name his favorite coach.

"James Patrick," he said.

Derek was 3 when he started going to Sabres' games with his parents, who have had season tickets in the 300 level for eight years. Patrick wore No. 3, which was enough to win over Derek.

"Good choice," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said.

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The Sabres have yet to allow a power-play goal in 24 opportunities this season, marking the best start in franchise history. Los Angeles and Minnesota also were perfect, the Kings going 19 for 19 and the Wild going 15 for 15.

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Center Paul Gaustad (thumb) again skated with teammates during the skating-only portion of practice, then left when team drills began. Centers Jochen Hecht (finger) and Tim Connolly did not participate at all.

e-mail: bgleason@buffnews.com

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