Maxim-um results for Sabres
One sign stood out amongst all others in the crowd at Buffalo's HSBC Arena on Friday. It read: 82-0.
The way the Sabres have started the 2006-07 NHL season, it's hard to imagine someone beating them.
After downing Carolina 5-4, Buffalo improved its league-leading record to 8-0-0 on Saturday with a 6-2 handling of Boston to close to within two wins of equalling the 1993-94 Toronto Maple Leafs for the best record to open a season.
Buffalo has tied a 31-year-old club mark with a season-opening eight consecutive wins and would make history Monday night if it bests longtime rival Montreal.
"We have that feeling thateverything's going to be all right, pretty much like we can't get beat," defenceman Henrik Tallinder told the Buffalo News on the weekend. "A couple games we've come from behind and managed to win the games.
"That's the feeling, that even if we're down a couple goals we can come back."
The Sabres did just that in this year's home opener on Oct. 6, prevailing 5-4 in a shootout against the Canadiens after trailing 4-2.
Unlike the Leafs, Buffalo has won three of its games via the shootout. However, the NHL doesn't differentiate between pre- and post-lockout win streaks, so there would be no asterisk if the Sabres defeat the New York Islanders Thursday to match Toronto's feat.
"You've got to have fun with it because when it's going bad it's an awful feeling in that room," said Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff, whose team fell one win shy of advancing to the Stanley Cup final last spring. "When you got it going good, you have to enjoy it."
Afinogenov leads NHL in scoring
Winners of13 straight regular-season contests dating back to April 7, the Sabres are having fun and it's showing in their play.
Winger Maxim Afinogenov, who topped the team in scoring last season, leads the league with 14 points. His linemate Thomas Vanek has 12 points and an NHL-best plus-10 rating, while Chris Drury's nine goals and six power-play goals have him tied for the league lead in both categories.
Afinogenov had a breakout season a year ago with 22 goals and 73 points, nearly doubling his previous high of 40 in 2001-02. The 27-year-old Russian has regained that form after a disappointing performance in last year's playoffs (eight points in 18 games).
He is also part of the best third line in hockey after being reunited with Vanek and centre Derek Roy for the second game of the season.
They racked up 11 points — including a career-high five by Afinogenov —and 10 shots in a 9-1 drubbing of the Philadelphia Flyers on Oct. 17. The speedy trio added seven points against Carolina and six more in Boston.
"When we move the puck and all three of us skate, the chemistry is good," said Vanek, who had 25 goals in his rookie NHL season a year ago. "When we're on the same page we're tough to play against."
Buffalo's ability to ice four lines that can score is a big reason it leads the NHL with 42 goals this season.
"We came so close last year when we went to Game 7 in the [Eastern] conference final [against Carolina] and almost won without four of our top five defenceman," Sabres centre Daniel Briere told the Montreal Gazette. "It was easy to get ready for this season because we felt we had some unfinished business."
The Canadiens have some unfinished business of their own after blowing a two-goal lead to their division foes two weeks ago.
Afinogenov made it 4-4 with 15 seconds remaining in regulation and lifted the Sabres to victory in the shootout.
Montreal (4-1-2) has won two of its last three games and is coming off an 8-5 win over Colorado, thanks to four power-play goals and blue-liner Sheldon Souray's four-point effort.
The Canadiens have dropped six of the past nine meetings against Buffalo.