A five-minute chat with the coach did wonders for Thomas Vanek's game.
Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff spent one-on-one time with his left winger during the morning skate Wednesday, and Vanek responded with a goal and several breathtaking plays in the Sabres' 4-3 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in HSBC Arena.
Vanek, coming off two subpar games that included a one-period benching, scored the Sabres' second goal as the team tried to rally in the final period.
He undressed a defenseman on a rush in the first period and also hit goal posts in the first and third periods.
"I said it before, I wasn't happy with my two games," Vanek said. "There's nothing you can do. You can't really pout about it, you've just got to show the coaches you're here to play and you're here to compete. I just tried my hardest tonight."
Vanek, tied with Ales Kotalik for the team lead with 24 goals, was benched for the third period of Saturday's 4-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators and had just one shot in 10 minutes of playing time in Monday's 5-0 loss to the Atlanta Thrashers.
Vanek was unhappy about being benched, and he and Ruff talked at center ice as players practiced around them.
"He was just telling me if I'm not going to work hard, if I'm not going to play well and stuff, he's going to sit me," Vanek said. "I told him that I understand that. I just said that I could have helped out in the third period, and I was surprised I got benched. So I just told him I guess I've just got to show up and play harder and make his job easier."
Vanek has offensive skills that most players only wish for, and Ruff said he wants his forward to mix them with plays everyone can make.
"It starts with keeping the game simple," Ruff said. "There's opportunities in the game for any type of play, but there's situations in the game and in our system when we want him to stay within those boundaries."
Vanek said the benching is a memory, and he and Ruff share a similar focus.
"We both have the same goal, and that's winning hockey games," Vanek said. "There's no bad blood or nothing. He gave me his thoughts, I gave him mine, and we're over it."
Ruff is just following doctor's orders with center Tim Connolly, who missed his fourth straight game with a sore left medial collateral ligament.
"Tim is very close to playing," Ruff said. "We want to make sure that when he is back, he is ready, because it isn't about getting Tim back for tonight and having him hurting again tomorrow.
"In talking to the doctors, I'm not making this decision this time. If it was totally up to me, and if the situation was really, really important, I think he would play. But I just feel the doctors concur with the fact they think he needs a little more time."
Sabres color broadcaster Jim Lorentz missed the game due to the death of his sister this week. Mike Robitaille, who does the pregame and postgame shows, filled in.