Two-thirds of the St. Louis Blues' top line has lived up to high expectations. They're starting to find out Jori Lehtera isn't just a third wheel.
After Lehtera scored the franchise's first natural hat trick since 1998, coach Ken Hitchcock wondered what took the left wing so long to leave the KHL.
"He should have come over a year before, quite frankly," Hitchcock said after Lehtera got the first three goals in a 6-1 victory over the punchless Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night.
The 26-year-old Lehtera was a third-round pick in 2008 but stayed in Europe until signing with St. Louis on July 1, so he's technically not a rookie.
"There were many reasons," Lehtera said. "But now I'm here."
Jaden Schwartz assisted on all of Lehtera's goals and Vladimir Tarasenko had assists on the first two, giving the Blues' top line 25 points the last six games. Lehtera and Tarasenko, who leads the team with nine goals and 10 assists, were teammates in the KHL.
"He wanted me to score today," Lehtera said. "He's a good player and it's nice to play with him. Pretty good passes from the guys."
Lehtera's first career hat trick was the Blues' first natural since Al MacInnis on Oct. 12, 1998, against the Rangers. It's the first natural hat trick in the NHL since James Neal of Nashville on Oct. 23.
The Blues are the only team in the NHL to get hat tricks from three different players this season. Tarasenko got his first career hat trick on a four-point night with the game-winner in overtime Oct. 28 at Dallas, and Schwartz had three points and an assist Oct. 18 at Arizona.
"Obviously, they're highly talented and they make plays," Sabres captain Brian Gionta said. "We gave them way too much time and space."
Brian Elliott stayed unbeaten for his career against Buffalo and the Blues added three goals, two by Joakim Lindstrom and one by David Backes. Alexander Steen also had three assists and Kevin Shattenkirk had two.
Tyler Ennis scored his team-leading fifth goal on a power play early in the third for the Sabres, held to one goal or for the 11th time in 16 games. Buffalo has totaled three goals in three losses to St. Louis the last two seasons, all by Ennis.
Elliott finished with 28 saves to improve to 11-0-2 against Buffalo. The Sabres have scored an NHL-low 19 goals.
Lehtera deflected a drive by Tarasenko past Michal Neuvirth at 17:08 of the first, converted a drop pass from Tarasenko at 3:21 of the second and scored his sixth of the season short-handed at 14:26 of the second on a one-timer from Schwartz.
An exchange of hard hits on opposite ends of the ice, neither resulting in a penalty, led to four players assessed fighting majors. Steen was penalized for fighting for the first time in his career, getting by far the best against Ennis, and the Blues were a man short because defenseman Ian Cole drew an additional roughing minor.
The Sabres were scoreless in the first period for the 13th straight game despite outshooting the Blues 15-10.
Nicolas Deslauriers drew a match penalty for spearing against Tarasenko late in the third and the Blues made it a blowout by tacking on three power-play goals.
"The way we started was probably one of the best periods that we played so far this season," Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. "Unfortunate incident at the end but overall I thought we had our moments and we're still learning and we're still growing."
NOTES: World War II veteran Charles Rohde, 92, of St. Louis was wheeled to the blue line by Backes for the National Anthem on Veteran's Day. Another WWII veteran, Wilbur Robins, was introduced during a break in the first. ... Buffalo F Chris Stewart, acquired in the deal for goalie Ryan Miller last February, was on the ice for all three of Lehtera's goals. ... The three-assist game was a career best for Schwartz.