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Power(ful) Play

So far, so good.

Fans attending Sabres games this homestand have been treated to an offensive clinic, as the team has piled on the shots on net and have created scoring chances, including on the power play.

In a dominating win over Atlanta last week, the Sabres recorded three power play goals, then followed up on Saturday against Washington with an additional two power play tallies, both by Jaroslav Spacek.

So what gives here? Wasn’t the power play the most moribund aspect of the team during last year’s Stanley Cup playoffs? Wasn’t the loss of our two superstars going to just make things worse?

“Spacho-Man” offers some answers, as he has been directing traffic from the blue line during the team’s power plays. “This year we are trying to get the puck up high some more and it seems to be working” said Spacek. “Plus our guys are creating more movement and opportunities right in front of the net, and as long as put the puck in there more often than not we will get good chances.”

Coach Lindy Ruff is also pleased at Spacek’s play and the role of the defense. “Whether it be on the power play, penalty kills or five-on-five, right now Spacek is our best player,” said Ruff. When asked about the goal-scoring stats that the blueliners are piling up, Ruff replied, “That’s been great, but we don’t expect that to continue.”

There is more good news for the Sabres defense. For the week ending October 14 the NHL designated defenseman Brian Campbell as the league’s “Second Star,” acknowledging Campbell’s seven-point performance in the two games against Atlanta and Washington. Campbell leads the league among defensemen with nine points after five games.

While Buffalo’s power play wasn’t going as well this past Monday against Toronto, going 0-5 in regulation, the team got that timely man advantage goal when they needed it the most—with 3.7 seconds left in the overtime frame. The dramatic victory sent Buffalo fans home happy and Toronto fans on yet another long ride back up the QEW. For the Sabres it was a huge confidence bulder. “Everyone in this room knows we can get goals in bunches,” said Tim Connolly afterwards.

Talk to anyone on the team and you will get the same answer. The Sabres are having success because they are shooting the puck on the net more, and shots on net translate into scoring chances. The Sabres officially recorded 53 shots on goal on Saturday night, just five short of the franchise record set in 1975 against Kansas City. Twenty-four of those shots came during the second period, brushing up close to the record of 26 set in 1978 against Cleveland.

Forward Ales Kotalik missed the opening weekend with a mild injury but made it back in time for the third game and immediately made his mark, scoring the first goal of the game on the power play and doing it in almost Drury-like fashion. He has found his comfort zone on the power play special teams, and for him it all felt good. “This year we are being less deliberate in making that perfect shot,” Kotalik said, “and we are always looking and trying to create trouble in front of the goaltender.” Kotalik also heaped praise on his countryman Spacek. “He’s such a leader and a team player. He took a lot of hits from people last year so I am happy he has started so well.”

Buffalo is home this Friday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets before hitting the road for two weeks, and if the past three games are any indication, we can expect a real show.

TARO SEZ…

■ This isn’t new news but something we learned this past weekend and worth mentioning: Cross Andrew Peters off of the list of eligible bachelors as he recently got engaged to Buffalo gal Erin Hennessy. The two are planning an August 2008 wedding.

■ Defenseman Brian Campbell has his own theory on why the Colorado Rockies are tearing their way through the MLB playoffs. “That’s ’cause they have Canadian pitcher Jeff Francis on their team,” said Campbell as baseball highlights were running on the big screen TV in the dressing room. Sure Brian. Okay. Whatever you say.

■ And speaking of Campbell, his contract expires after this season and he becomes an unrestricted free agent. Is the front office policy still not to talk to players about new contracts until the season is concluded? Shudder.

■ The Sabres game night host contest is down to the finals, and derisive boos can be heard every time this nonsense is staged. So how about giving the fans what they want? “None of the above,” with funny video clips and plain old organ music to entertain during the breaks.

■ According to Versus’ Keith Jones, Buffalo scored five goals after the second intermission for the first time in six years in the Toronto game this past Monday.

■ Sellout streak ends! 18,217 was the official attendance for Monday’s Sabres/Leaves tilt. Maybe Toronto Fan is off the wagon after two consecutive non playoff seasons and low expectations for the season ahead.