Vanek and Pominville are key/Sabres vs Panthers preview

Follow Alex on Twitter.

About 3 weeks ago, Jason Pominville was named the newest captain of the Buffalo Sabres. The move was met with a mixed reaction because Vanek was the odds-on favorite to be given the “C.” Vanek was named one of four alternate captains instead. Taking a quick glance at the stat sheet and their play so far, I’d say the dynamic is working out pretty well.

The stats are there to support this claim. Vanek and Pominville are #1 and #2 respectively on the team scoring list with 14 and 13 points on the season. Vanek is leading the team in goals with 7 and Pominville is leading the team in assists with 9. Not only that, the duo is 2 and 3 in scoring for the whole league. Vanek is 2nd in goals behind Phil Kessel (TOR) and James Neal (PIT) who both have 9 goals, while Pominville is 2nd in assists behind Marc-Andre Bergeron (TB) who has 10.

Their new center is reaping the rewards, too. Rookie Luke Adam is 3rd on the team in scoring with 8 points. Adam is currently 2nd in rookie scoring behind 1st overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and is just one point behind the rookie sensation. Although Adam does deserve credit for some improved play of his own, playing with Buffalo’s dynamic duo hasn’t hurt.

However, there’s more to this than just the stats. Vanek and Pominville seem to have chemistry. I understand that is such an over used word these days, but these two just have it. Any fan who has watched them in action this season has seen it. Tape to tape passes, perfect plays between the two. Take a look at the two goals they teamed up for Thursday vs. Columbus.

On Pominville’s first goal, Thomas Vanek was the recipient of a nice pass from Luke Adam. He blasted a slap shot from the top of circles, Mason saved the shot off a broken stick, but Pominville was able to cash in on the rebound. Pominville was not there out of sheer blind luck. He knew Vanek was going to shoot and knew where to be in case a rebound came out.

On Pominville’s second goal, Vanek worked hard behind the net to keep the puck alive after getting tripped up. He tipped it to Boyes, who sends it back to Vanek behind the net. Vanek drew the attention of two defenders while the captain moved in for the kill. Vanek found the open Pominville perfectly and the puck was behind Mason to clinch the Sabres victory. Even Boyes’ goal to open the scoring was a result of the Vanek/Pominville magic. After a great breakout pass from Christian Ehrhoff, Pominville made a no look drop pass to Vanek on the right wing who then quickly flung it over to Boyes who converted with a one timer on the power play.

The Columbus game was a prime example of the chemistry these two have. Aside from these goals, they were awesome on the forecheck all night and created a few chances for Adam that he unfortunately couldn’t convert. These two just work well together. There’s something between them, something that stats won’t tell you.

As a fan, it’s very exciting to finally have a consistent top unit for the first time in a while. There’s some magic between Vanek and Pominville, and hopefully they’ll stay together the whole season. This is the chemistry the Sabres have been searching for. However, it’s not from the bonafide, number one center everyone has been clamoring for. No, in fact, it’s from two guys who have grown together as players. As far as I’m concerned, these two could be the key to the Sabres being successful. I’m a little reluctant to say they’ll lead us to the top by themselves, but holy hell, are they ever carrying the team early.

It’s hard to explain why exactly these two work so well together, but if they keep going the way they are, one can fully expect 40 goals out of Vanek and at least 80 points from Pominville. It may be early, but these two just look unstoppable together. Frankly, I don’t think Lindy, the rest of the team, or the fans really care why they’re doing so well together, as long as they keep it up. Which, for now, seems very likely

Preview: Sabres vs. Panthers

Sabres (6-3-0, 12 pts, 4th in the East) Vs. Panthers (5-4-0, 10 pts, 7th in the East)

October 29th, 2011 7:00 PM at First Niagara Center

Season Series: Buffalo 1-0-0 Florida 0-1-0

Past Games: Sabres @ Panthers 10/20/11 Sabres 3 Panthers 0

The Lowdown:

Buffalo enters the third game of a five game homestand when they host the Florida Panthers on Saturday night. Buffalo is currently 1-1-0 on that homestand, after losing the first game to Tampa Bay, 4-3, and then beating the Columbus Blue Jackets, 4-2, on Thursday night.

The Panthers, meanwhile, come in slightly cooled off after a hot start. The Cats won three of their first four games, but have gone 2-2-0 since, including a 3-0 loss to Buffalo. Now they are on the verge of dropping to .500 if they lose to the Sabres. In their last game, the Panthers lost, 4-3, by the surging Ottawa Senators.

As previously mentioned, the Sabres defeated the Panthers in a 3-0 shutout on Oct. 20th in Sunrise, Florida. They’ll be looking to win their second in a row after grabbing their first win on home ice Thursday night.

Who’s Hot:

For Buffalo, most of the offense has come from the Sabres new #1 line of Thomas Vanek, Luke Adam and Jason Pominville. The trio is ranked 1st, 2nd, and 3rd in team scoring respectively with 14, 13, and 8 points. Nathan Gerbe has also been on fire to start the season, with 6 points in the first 9 games.

Buffalo’s penalty kill is also performing admirably. The PK unit is currently ranked 2nd overall in the league at an astounding 93.6%. The power play finally clicked, going 2-for-4 Thursday night vs. Columbus.

For the Panthers, it’s new guy, Kris Versteeg, leading the way offensively with 11 points in nine games. Homegrown player, Stephen Weiss, is right behind him with 9 points on the season. Old friend Brain Campbell, who was traded to Florida this offseason, has 8 points.

The Injury Report:

For Buffalo, Jochen Hecht is still out with post concussion syndrome, and may have suffered another setback. Tyler Ennis is still considered week-to-week with an ankle sprain.


If the Sabres want to win, they’ll have to tighten up defensively. Although they won 4-2 in their last game, a lot of the credit goes to rookie goalie Jhonas Enroth, who stood on his head and made 40 saves. The Sabres will need to cut down the number of shots and opportunities they give to their opponents and stop turning the puck over so often. Miller will likely start for the Blue and Gold.

It is unclear who will start for Florida in net. Rookie, Jacob Markstrom, played well against Montreal, stopping 40 of 41 shots and faced another 38 against Ottawa and yielded 4 goals, including the winner with just 2.5 seconds left in the game. They may give veteran Jose Theodore a start, in order to not overload Markstrom. So, the key for Florida is the same, to clean things up defensively. They’ll also have to be mindful of the Vanek and Pominville duo, who combined for 6 points Thursday vs. Columbus and had a hand in 3 of Buffalo’s 4 goals.

My prediction: Sabres 5 Panthers 2

Vanek and Pominville will have a good night once again. I think the Sabres will get at least a goal out of each of them.  Drew Stafford will score too and hopefully wake up his linemates. The Sabres will put up 3 in the first and force the Panthers to pull their goalie and put in the backup. The Panthers will respond early in the second with a goal of their own, but the Sabres will answer right back. Miller will give up his regular last minute goal, but it’ll be too little too late for Florida.