The Buffalo Sabres have lost 163 man games to injury this season, spread over 14 players, so they know the drill. But their most critical loss of the season came Saturday night in Ottawa.
The team announced Sunday that All-Star winger Thomas Vanek, the third-leading goal scorer in the NHL, is going to be out three to four weeks after having successful surgery to repair a fractured jaw.
General Manager Darcy Regier made the announcement in a one-paragraph statement. The team was off.
Vanek was struck in the face by a shot from Ottawa defenseman Anton Volchenkov with 7:52 left in the first period of the 3-2 shootout loss to the Senators. Immediately putting his hand to his face, Vanek sprinted off the ice to the dressing room and did not return.
Vanek has 32 goals in 54 games this season. He was the first NHL player this year to reach 20 goals and was on pace to score 49; his career high was 43 in the 2006-07 season.
Vanek had been the Sabres' iron man, playing in his team-high 225th straight game Saturday and never missing one due to injury in his four NHL seasons.
He is the second Sabre in recent weeks shelved by a jaw fracture after taking a puck to the face. Defenseman Teppo Numminen missed six games because of a fracture incurred Jan. 17 against Carolina when hit by Tim Gleason.
Vanek cracked the 30-goal mark for the third straight year with a hat trick Wednesday against Toronto, the final three goals in Buffalo's 5-0 win. He became just the second NHL player to post four consecutive natural hat tricks, joining 1920s Ottawa star Cy Denneny.
Daniel Paille, a healthy scratch the last two games, could be reinserted into the lineup in Vanek's place. Potential call-ups from Portland could include Mark Mancari, Nathan Gerbe or South Buffalo native Tim Kennedy. The Pirates will be practicing before the Sabres in HSBC Arena this morning in preparation for the Pirates' game here Tuesday night against Albany.