Niagara Gazette

Sports

October 25, 2006

NHL INSIDER: With Vanek leading way, new line makes big waves

Is the Thomas Vanek-Maxim Afinogenov-Derek Roy tandem the best third line in the National Hockey League? Or is it one of the top lines, period?

Hard to say. Lindy Ruff has long been tagged as a coach who’s more concerned with teaching systems than building line cohesiveness. But in Vanek, Afinogenov and Roy, even Ruff can see there’s something special.

Ruff hasn’t been hesitant to throw the trio out, even late in games or on penalty kills.

While Afinogenov was named the NHL’s first star for the week ending Oct. 22, the most eye-popping stats have come from Vanek, who’s on pace to eclipse his impressive rookie scoring total in November. Vanek already has 13 points in nine games and was an inconceivable plus-10 in his last four games.

His physical commitment in the off-season was lauded by the Sabres coaching staff, but many are starting to realize that Vanek’s internal fire — questioned when he was benched during the team’s postseason run — might be greater than originally believed.

“The difference is I’m not a rookie,” Vanek explained. “This is a tough league. You’re first year is a learning experience. Maybe don’t play as much. Last year was more of a learning year and I definitely learned my lesson. I’m just excited to be here this year.”

•••

Chemistry is one of those dicey words that keep sports radio in business.

Does chemistry make a tangible difference? Or can talented players overcome fractured relationships?

Marty Biron has been the ultimate teammate through trying times — he’s clearly been usurped by Ryan Miller for the Sabres’ starting job in net, yet he still makes more than Miller, even after the latter signed a big contract.

But Biron insisted that he wasn’t unhappy in Buffalo as soon as the season started. He was, obviously looking for a No. 1 job, but has kept quiet since the Sabres failed to deal him in the off-season.

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