OTTAWA – Tuesday was a night to remember for Buffalo Sabres forward Thomas Vanek.
For the newest members of the Ottawa Senators, it was a debut they’d rather forget. Vanek broke out of his season-long scoring slump to record his first career hat trick and the Buffalo Sabres went on to hammer the Senators 5-1, spoiling the Senators debuts of Cory Stillman and Mike Commodore.
“Not nice for the first one, but we’ll get another chance (Wednesday),” said Commodore, who arrived with Stillman as part of a four-player trade with the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday. “I made a couple of mistakes and would have liked to do better.”
It would have been tough to top Vanek.
He had a goal in the second period and two more in the third to reach the 20-goal mark for the third time in as many seasons.
“The defence was doing a good job of getting pucks to the net and it helped me,” Vanek said. “It’s been like that for the last four or five games.”
The performance gave Vanek goals in three straight games and six in the past five contests. The improved play is taking some of the heat off the 24-year-old, who signed a seven-year, US$50-million deal in the summer after scoring 43 goals last season.
“It’s great, I’m really happy for him,” said Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller, who finished with 25 saves. “Earlier in the year he was searching for it and he had a lot of pressure on his plate and I think as the team has settled down, he’s settled down, too. I think he can go out there and score some goals now. He’s putting that puck on net like he needs to.”
Clarke MacArthur and Jason Pominville each had a goal and an assist for the Sabres before a sellout crowd of 19,564 at Scotiabank Place.
The streaking Sabres (27-21-8), who are the Eastern Conference’s hottest team with seven wins and two shootout losses in their past nine games, limited the Senators’ offence to just 11 shots on through the first two periods.
The Sabres fired 39 shots on Ray Emery in their first game since Sunday’s scary incident when Richard Zednik of the Florida Panthers suffered a severed artery when cut by the skate of teammate Olli Jokinen. Buffalo has won two straight and four of its past five.
“Overall, I don’t know if we can play better,” Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said.
Randy Robitaille had the lone goal for Ottawa (34-19-4), which had its own two-game win streak stopped.
“We couldn’t really get anything going early on,” Senators centre Jason Spezza said. “We just didn’t generate enough offence.
“They were jumping us pretty hard and we were bobbling the puck. Tonight, the puck wasn’t our friend.”
Stillman, who marked his debut with an assist on Robitaille’s power-play marker, skated regularly on Ottawa’s second line with centre Mike Fisher and right-winger Chris Neil while Commodore teamed with Wade Redden on the team’s second defensive pairing.
The Senators showed little offensive spark, looking nothing like the team that routed the Montreal Canadiens 6-1 on Saturday.
“We wanted to be smart, and a lot of that was puck control, putting it in places where they’d have to come a long ways to make a difference,” Miller said. “And when they did get in our zone, we were smart about not chasing too much and finding the options and keeping them in front of us. We did a nice job.”
The Sabres outshot the Senators 13-5 in the opening period and Vanek opened the scoring at the 3:44 mark of the second period, by ripping a slapshot from the right faceoff circle past Emery.
Commodore, who earlier steered a loose puck in the Senators’ crease out of harm’s way, made an impression when he levelled MacArthur with a shoulder check and then broke up a 3-on-1 rush with a sliding stick check on the same shift moments later.
However, Vanek notched his second goal on the power play early in third and, after Robitaille cut the lead in half with plenty of time to go, MacArthur restored the two-goal cushion when a rebound bounced off his body while driving to the net.
Vanek completed the hat trick during a 5-on-3 power play before Pominville added a late goal.
Notes: Dany Heatley appeared in his 400th career game. … Ottawa returned left-winger Nick Foligno to Binghamton of the American Hockey League prior to the game. … The Senators left immediately following the game for New Jersey, where they face the Devils on Wednesday night. … Sabres right-winger Drew Stafford missed his third straight game because of an ankle injury. … Buffalo returned home to prepare for the Toronto Maple Leafs, who visit HSBC Arena on Wednesday.