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Second half a mystery to Vanek

Thomas Vanek is at a loss. He just can't explain how a season that started so well for him ended so poorly.

Through the opening 40 games, the Sabres' winger was a goal-scoring, point-producing machine. He put up 19 goals and 40 points to rank near the top of the NHL. The longest he went without reaching the score sheet was two games.

The season started heading south Jan. 7. In the final 38 games of the season, Vanek scored just seven times and recorded 21 points, including two assists in Saturday's 4-3 shootout loss in Boston. He had skids of seven, four and three games without a point.

"I don't know [what happened]," Vanek said. "I really don't know. Obviously, the team went into a little funk, and I needed to be one of the guys to keep going and be a leader. I got trapped right in it."

The prolonged slump has ended Vanek's reign as Buffalo's perennial goal-scoring leader. After leading the team for five straight seasons, he finished second to captain Jason Pominville this year. Vanek scored 26 times, the second-lowest total of his career, ahead of only the 25 he notched as a rookie in 2005-06.

"You look back at some stretches where we could have been better, myself included," he said. "We could have made a difference and got some points and not be in the position we are."

Injuries no doubt hampered Vanek's game. He took three huge hits this season: Toronto's Dion Phaneuf popped him Jan. 10; Montreal's Erik Cole and Max Pacioretty sandwiched him Jan. 31; and Boston's Johnny Boychuk caught Vanek with his head down March 8. Vanek missed three games because of the Montreal hit and one after the Boychuk blast.

"Just little things," Vanek said of injuries. "Nothing major to really sit out. I did sit out a little bit with the chest back then, but just little things, nothing to excuse myself of."

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Pominville not only replaced Vanek as the Sabres' goal-scoring leader, he became just the eighth player to win the team's scoring triple crown.

Pominville led Buffalo with 30 goals, 43 assists and 73 points after scoring once Saturday. He joined Gilbert Perreault, Pierre Turgeon, Dale Hawerchuk, Pat LaFontaine, Donald Audette, Miroslav Satan and Vanek as the only Sabres to lead all three categories in a single season.

Pominville scored his 30th in the third period Saturday, the second time he's reached the milestone. He scored a career-best 34 times in 2006-07.

"It would've meant more if we would have been in the playoffs," Pominville said. "Obviously, it's a nice plateau to hit, but at the same time it's about the team and trying to get where we want to be."

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Sabres center Cody Hodgson finished the 82-game season with 83 games played. He skated in 20 for the Sabres and 63 for Vancouver.

The rookie set an NHL record Saturday by dressing in his 48th road game. The previous standard, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, was set by Darryl Sydor in 1995-96 and matched by Niklas Hagman in 2005-06. The prior high by a player who spent part of the season in Buffalo was 46 games, set by Mike Foligno in 1981-82.

Right wing Patrick Kaleta led the Sabres in penalty minutes with 116. Center Tyler Ennis was a team-high plus-11. Defenseman Mike Weber was a team-worst minus-19.

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The Rochester Americans will get a boost today when defensemen Brayden McNabb and T.J. Brennan return from the Sabres. The Amerks have four games left.

While waiting for the blue-line reinforcements, they added a local product to their roster. The Amerks signed Rochester native Ryan Grimshaw to an amateur tryout. The 22-year-old defenseman just finished a four-year career at Harvard. He was the team captain this season and had eight assists in 34 games.

In 121 career games at Harvard, the 6-foot, 195-pounder recorded four goals and 26 points.

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Sabres coach Lindy Ruff, rumored to be in the running to lead Canada at the world championships next month, said no decision has been finalized.

Said Ruff: "I've made no commitment anywhere."

email: jvogl@buffnews.com