BUFFALO, N.Y. – A nine-month layoff, courtesy of the NHL lockout, wasn’t long enough to disrupt the chemistry between the Buffalo Sabres’ top two linemates, Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville.
Vanek scored twice and added three assists, and Pominville had three assists in leading the Sabres to a 5-2 season-opening win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday afternoon.
“Ah, they spent a lot of years playing together. You go all the way back to their days in Rochester,” coach Lindy Ruff said, referring to the two playing together in the American Hockey League 2004-05 season. “Those two guys are a little bit like glue.”
They sure stuck it to the Flyers as the Sabres scored the game’s final four goals—the last three coming in the final five minutes.
“Good linemates,” Vanek said of his career-best outing. “And a little bit lucky at the same time.”
He became the first Sabres player with five points in a game since Drew Stafford had three goals and two assists in January 2008.
Vanek tied it 2-2 by scoring on a breakaway with 4:06 left in the second period. He then had a hand in setting up defenceman Tyler Myers’ go-ahead goal with 5:03 remaining.
The Sabres worked the puck around to the left point, where Myers got off a shot that appeared to deflect in off the skate of Flyers defenceman Kimmo Timonen, who was battling with Vanek for position in front of the net.
Cody Hodgson and newly acquired forward Steve Ott also scored for the Sabres, while Ryan Miller made 27 saves. Buffalo ended a five-game skid against the Flyers (1-4-1) and improved to 6-1-1 in its past eight season openers.
Claude Giroux, with his second goal of the season, and Sean Couturier scored for the Flyers, who were coming off a 3-1 season-opening loss to Pittsburgh on Saturday. This marks just the 10th time Philadelphia has opened 0-2.
“The bounces aren’t going our way right now,” Giroux said. “It’s not the start that we’re looking for, two losses in a row. But we’ll just have to fight through it and come back.”
The Flyers had two goals disallowed. The first one, scored by Ruslan Fedotenko in the first period, was waved off after referee Steve Kozari ruled Fedotenko had bumped Miller before the puck went in. The second came in the final minutes, when officials ruled the whistle had blown before the puck dribbled over the goal line.
Coach Peter Laviolette questioned why Fedotenko’s goal was disallowed, noting the Flyers player was outside the crease when he nudged Miller. As for the second disallowed goal, Laviolette said he never spoke to the official who made the call.
A bigger concern is Philadelphia’s penalty-killing unit.
After allowing the Penguins to score twice on three power-play chances, the Flyers gave up three more on Buffalo’s six opportunities.
“The penalty-kill right now, we’ve got to continue to look at it and work at it,” Laviolette said. “Every day is a new opportunity. But we’ve got to get on track here and get a win in the column and get moving in the right direction.”
They’ll have to get it started on the road. The Flyers are in the middle of a stretch in which they’re playing six of seven away from Philadelphia.
The Sabres did little wrong in rewarding their fans in coming out of the NHL lockout.
Before the game, Sabres players, coaches and team owner Terry Pegula were in the First Niagara Center lobby to greet fans when the gates opened. They handed out programs, signed autographs and posed for pictures.
Once the game began, Buffalo scored the first goal, courtesy of Ott. At the final horn, they gathered at centre ice and raised their sticks to acknowledge the sold-out house.
The Sabres were without third-line forward Ville Leino, who is listed as day to day with a lower body injury after he was hurt in practice Friday.
Notes: At 18 years and 254 days, Sabres rookie C Mikhail Grigorenko became the fifth-youngest player to be on the team’s opening roster. Pierre Turgeon was the youngest (18 years, 41 days) in 1987. … The Sabres have only about 12,000 tickets unsold for their remaining 23 home games. … Flyers C Zac Rinaldo played just 2:47 before leaving the game with what the team called a lower body injury.