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Following Vanek's lead may cure ills; One of just three Sabres on pace to top 20 goals

Since Thomas Vanek seems to be the only guy scoring goals for the Buffalo Sabres, it makes sense to look at how he scores them.

*He gets near the goaltender, putting himself in prime position to tip shots or deposit rebounds.

*He shoots the puck, leading the team with 107 attempts.

*He capitalizes on his chances, with a shooting percentage of 16.8 percent that ranks second on the team and 66th in the NHL.

So, for the rest of the guys wearing Blue and Gold, maybe it's time to be like Thomas.

"It seems like that guy's always there for us," said Sabres defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani, who will join his teammates in facing Washington tonight in Verizon Center.

For the Sabres to beat the Capitals for the second time this week (they won at home Monday for their only victory in the last five games), they could use a few guys to join Vanek and linemate Jason Pominville on the score sheet. Vanek has 18 of the Sabres' 95 goals, while Pominville has 12. That's 32 percent for just two players.

"We've got to find ways for other guys to score," right wing Brad Boyes said Thursday in SkateQuest, 20 miles from the capital. "We've got the same guys scoring every game. You're not going to win relying on two guys. You look at the lineup, a lot of guys have history, but that doesn't do anything right now.

"Our team's built on depth, so we've got to get chipping in from everybody."

The Sabres' 3-1 loss to New Jersey on Wednesday followed the familiar trend of improving the other goalie's stats. The Sabres have scored just once in seven of the last 18 games. In four other outings, they found the net just twice.

"We've got to score more than one goal to win a game," Pominville said.

The Sabres are on pace to score 24 fewer goals than last season. It's because plenty of guys need to pick up the pace.

Only three players are on target to top 20 goals, with Vanek (41), Pominville (27) and Luke Adam (22) leading the way. Derek Roy is on pace for 18. Drew Stafford is headed for 14. Boyes is on pace for six, while Paul Gaustad is in line for just five.

"Our line's really got to get going," said Boyes, who is skating alongside Roy and Stafford.

Roy didn't mention Vanek by name while describing why the team's scoring is down, but he quickly listed the sniper's attributes.

"I don't think we're getting enough pucks to those areas where we're getting opportunities and second opportunities," Roy said. "A lot of goals are scored off rebounds and in the crease, and I don't think we're getting there enough.

"Secondly, I don't think we're bearing down when we get a real good chance. We're missing a lot of chances. It's frustrating."

Coach Lindy Ruff assembled his players near the boards for a long chat before beginning practice. It was a talk filled with shrugs and points by the coach.

"We talked about throwing a lot of pucks at the net, get some traffic," Gragnani said. "When you have no options, just shoot for the far pad and hopefully we'll [get] some rebounds and finish those off."

The Sabres could also use a run of even-strength goals. Half of their last 16 goals have come on the power play. The Sabres rank 20th in the NHL in five-on-five tallies after tying for fifth last season.

"We've only had a couple goals or so the last few games on five-on-five," Roy said, "and that's getting pucks to the point, getting shots through and getting guys to the net and battling for rebounds."

In other words, mimic Vanek.

"Van's so good around the net, so go to the net," Boyes said. "That's where he scores a lot of his goals. If you're a perimeter player now with the way the teams are -- five guys on the inside -- you're not going to score many tic-tac-toe goals. He scores his in tight, so that's what we've got to do."

email: jvogl@buffnews.com