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Step-Up Time

Losing Thomas Vanek for three weeks is hardly what the Sabres needed right now. They've been playing very well since Jan. 1, but they'll sorely miss Vanek's goal-scoring and his commanding presence on the ice. They're making a push toward the upper reaches of the playoffs, but if no one steps up during Vanek's absence, they could find themselves on the playoff bubble a month from now.

Jason Pominville certainly needs to score. Pominville has been a solid two-way player, but he hasn't scored a goal in 16 games. He has only one even-strength goal since Nov. 19 (not counting an empty-netter). The Sabres expected a lot more when they signed him to a contract extension for a shade over $5 million a year before the season. The pressure in on. I'll deal with the subject in more depth in tomorrow's column in the News.

Pominville isn't the only one. Daniel Paille has one goal in 18 games. Assuming he gets more playing time, he needs to produce. The same goes for Clarke MacArthur, who has one goal in 16 games. And is it too much to ask for Ales Kotalik to show the same scoring touch in regulation play as he does in shootouts? All right, so it probably is too much to ask. But Kotalik has one goal in 11 games. He's a sniper. He has to do better than that.

So who do you think has the most heat on him with Vanek out?



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