TORONTO – With sniper Thomas Vanek on the sidelines, the Buffalo Sabres need more performances like Drew Stafford’s two-goal effort Tuesday to fill the offensive void.
Stafford scored a pair of power-play goals in the Sabres’ 4-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Stafford now has 17 goals on the year, one more than his previous career high of 16 set last season.
Derek Roy, who plays centre on Stafford’s line, said the 23-year-old has really stepped up his game offensively over the past few weeks.
“He’s been making some plays, moving his feet down low,” said Roy, whose team is now tied for fifth in the Eastern Conference. “He’s a strong body in front of the net on the power play and we need that from him. He’s playing really well, he had a couple more chances to score some more goals tonight.”
Stafford, who narrowly missed scoring a hat trick against the Leafs when a third-period backhander sailed wide, has eight goals in his past 11 games. He kick-started his recent hot streak with a three-goal effort versus the Edmonton Oilers in late January.
Production like that is especially vital since Vanek, who had 32 goals in 54 games, was lost to a broken jaw in a Feb. 7 game versus the Ottawa Senators and won’t return until at least early March.
“As long as I’m contributing, especially now with Thomas out, we’re going to need all the goals we can get and if that’s what I’m going to be contributing, than so be it,” said Stafford, who was taken 13th overall in the 2004 NHL draft. “I know it’s not going to happen every night, but we have a lot of guys in here who can contribute in the goal-scoring department, so I’m just trying to do my part in that aspect as well as trying to be solid everywhere else.”
Stafford’s first goal against the Leafs caught Toronto goalie Justin Pogge off guard after his teammates turned over the puck on a Sabres power play. His second man-advantage goal wasn’t very glamorous, but it was the kind of second-chance, rebound goal his team is counting on him for.
“The second one was just hanging around the net, being a net rat,” Stafford grinned. “It’s greasy, but I’ll take it.”
Roy, who after a slow start could hit 75 points this season, said there’s an added burden on all of Buffalo’s skill players to increase production while Vanek is out.
“Obviously you’ve got to make up for the goals that Thomas has scored all season,” he said. “You put a little bit more pressure on yourself, go out and just play your game and play hard. The goal-scorers have to score goals, especially if somebody else is missing, somebody has to step up.”