The first time Lindy Ruff watched the line of Ville Leino, Drew Stafford and Tyler Ennis, he was transported back to the heyday of Meadowlark Lemon and Curly Neal. As the Buffalo Sabres' trio repeatedly wheeled around the outside of the offensive zone, playing keep-away from the opponents, Ruff could just about hear "Sweet Georgia Brown" being whistled in his ear.
"We had a couple great Harlem Globetrotter-like shifts," Ruff said, "but the ball never went to the hoop. We're not going to get any goals or get rewarded for those plays."
Indeed, the line didn't record a point in its debut. Since then, however, it's been nothing but net.
The Leino line connected during its second straight appearance, opening the scoring Saturday night as the Sabres skated to a 3-2 victory over Toronto in First Niagara Center. Like the famous basketball team, the Sabres just can't lose. They improved to 4-0 in the preseason with their fifth game set for today in Columbus against the Blue Jackets (5 p.m., Radio 550 AM).
The Sabres scored three times on the power play, with Stafford, Christian Ehrhoff and Luke Adam connecting on the man-advantage to drop Toronto for the second straight night.
"The units were working it around well, getting great chances and scoring for us," Ennis said.
The trio of Leino, Stafford and Ennis is quickly proving its worth as either the No. 1 or 1A offensive line for Buffalo. They combined for two points against the Leafs after getting the same number during Wednesday's 3-1 victory in Montreal. They have 18 shots in three games.
"We're slowly finding chemistry," Ennis said. "I think we played well, and I think gradually we'll generate more when we get used to each other. We just need to work hard, be creative, but most importantly we've got to get pucks to the net."
The thing that sticks out most for the line is the players' ability to control the puck.
Leino came to town trailed by praise for his puck-possession skills. The center has lived up to the hype, turning his back on opponents to allow his linemates to get open. Fans in Sabreland already knew Ennis can be a wizard with the puck, while Stafford has the ability to use his muscular frame to keep control.
Stafford's first goal of the preseason Saturday came with the Leafs pinned deep in their zone. Ennis just missed Stafford in front, and Jordan Leopold's wide shot caromed back to Ennis. He and Stafford didn't waste their second chance.
"We're getting better every game," Leino said. "Everybody's getting a little bit better feel. We're starting to feel better as individuals, too. I think we've got a lot more to go, and we can get a lot better. It should be fun."
The Buffalo power play ensured a pleasant night for the vocal Sabre backers in the sellout crowd of 18,690. Goaltender Jhonas Enroth also earned applause, making 19 saves as the Sabres outshot the Leafs, 37-21.
Ehrhoff broke a 1-1 tie in the second period, ripping a one-timer high into the net from the point. He has points in all three appearances, scoring twice and adding two assists.
"We've just got to get the puck to Ehrhoff, it seems," Ennis said. "He's got a cannon."
The Sabres third power-play goal of the night came on a pretty tic-tac-toe play with 16:47 left. Thomas Vanek passed from the right point to Brad Boyes in the left corner, and Boyes quickly found Adam in the right circle for a one-timer.
It allowed the Sabres to withstand Mikhail Grabovski's goal with 6:39 left.
Today's game against the Blue Jackets caps a run of three games in three days. Ruff has liked the strenuous schedule.
"In some ways, I think it's good that you get accustomed to what you're going to deal with during the year," the coach said. "When we get in these three games in three nights and these back-to-back games, my thinking is to try to play a couple lines back-to-back, get them used to that grind.
"Give some players an opportunity in some situations that they wouldn't normally get, even at the sake that we get scored against or it costs us chances just to see how they react to some of those situations. We've put our young defensemen in those situations. We've put some of our key offensive players in penalty-killing situations just to get a real good sense of where they're at or how they'll react. This is the time to try those type of things."
The Leino line will get its chance to play back-to-back, meaning it's got a chance to keep scoring.
"Everyone on our line likes having the puck and being creative," Ennis said, "but you can't score if you don't shoot. We're tying to do that more."