The Buffalo Sabres figured the Vancouver Canucks would hit town a little leg-weary after an overtime win Thursday in Detroit. The prevailing wisdom was that a quick start could lead to a quick and relatively easy night.
The master plan worked perfectly Friday in a 5-2 win over the Canucks before an HSBC Arena near-sellout crowd of 18,449. The Sabres' attack went rat-a-tat-tat three times in just over 13 minutes from the opening faceoff and that meant game-set-match.
Buffalo improved to 4-0 for just the third time in its history, joining the clubs from 1975-76 and 2006-07.
Ales Kotalik scored twice for Buffalo, with Jaroslav Spacek, Clarke MacArthur and Thomas Vanek adding single tallies. Vanek retook the NHL lead with his sixth goal of the young season and fed Kotalik for the clincher with 5:49 left on a spectacular back pass into the slot. Ryan Miller stopped 23 of 25 Vancouver shots in goal with one of the Canucks' goals by ex-Sabre Steve Bernier.
Spacek scored on the power play at 1:10 of the first and MacArthur did likewise at 8:30. Kotalik's goal at 13:10 gave Buffalo a stranglehold on the proceedings for the rest of the night.
"That was an important part of the game for us," said coach Lindy Ruff. "You get some situations where you can take advantage of the schedule and tonight was one of them. We wanted to get off to a quick start, I think our speed created a couple opportunities that led to penalties and the power play did a nice job."
Now it's the Sabres who will have to watch for similar struggles when they play tonight in Atlanta, their fourth game in six nights.
The Sabres picked on Vancouver backup goalie Curtis Sanford, making his first start of the season in relief of Roberto Luongo. But to pin this one merely on a fatigued bunch of visitors and a backup goalie would be doing a gross injustice to the Sabres' performance, especially in the opening 20 minutes.
Buffalo scored on its first two power plays and killed off three more penalties in the game to extend its perfect run thus far to 18 of 18. Andrew Peters got the upper hand with a couple smashing rights in a first-period tough-guy battle with Canucks enforcer Darcy Hordichuk and Patrick Kaleta got under an opponent's skin for the second straight game to draw an extended power play that led to MacArthur's goal.
Spacek blasted home his first of the year on a one-timer after a feed from point partner Andrej Sekera. It came just six seconds after Willie Mitchell went off for delay of game and was the first goal of the season for a Buffalo defenseman.
"We jumped them early," Spacek said. "They played [Thursday] night and [we] scored two big goals in the beginning. Then getting that third one was great."
MacArthur's tap-in of Craig Rivet's shot from the point at 8:30 came after Kaleta suckered defenseman Shane O'Brien into attacking him, drawing a double minor. Kotalik made it 3-0 at 13:10, pivoting from 30 feet out on a wrist shot that Sanford allowed to dribble between his legs.
Vanek's goal came at 10:33 of the second to make it 4-1 as he neatly chipped his own rebound on the backhand over Sanford's left shoulder.
"All of us are feeling pretty good," Vanek said. "It was huge, real big for us to get some early goals and we never really looked back."
Kotalik and Vanek combined to close the score at 14:11 of the third as Vanek broke in alone, was hooked off the puck and then pursued it to the right corner and blindly fed it to a streaking Kotalik in the slot.
His sizzling one-timer burned Sanford and prompted a leaping celebration on the ice with Vanek, who landed sprawled on his back while both had a good laugh.
"It was more accident than anything else," said a sheepish Kotalik, who is second on the team with four goals. "We carried momentum towards each other so I'm probably a little heavier than him and that's how we fell.
"We really try to stay together as a team all the time. It's a great group of guys, reminding me of those two years we want almost all the way to the [Stanley Cup] finals. I'm feeling the same way going into the season and it's so far, so good for us."