When you compare ice-time numbers to the previous seven seasons of his NHL career, Thomas Vanek has seen a huge bump in his playing time.

When you compare them to the elite forwards in the NHL, Vanek isn’t necessarily getting the kind of time you would expect. But Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff, who already has expanded his star’s use in the first quarter of the season, is really starting to ride his red-hot winger.

Vanek played a season-high 23 minutes, 56 seconds in Thursday’s shootout win over Montreal – his most ice time since Jan. 11, 2011 – and scored two third-period goals to tie the game. That came two nights after Vanek played 20:15 in a loss at Ottawa.

Vanek had not played more than 20 minutes in back-to-back games since December 2008. Last year, in fact, his ice time was over 19 minutes just once in the final 32 games as he was clearly battling a string of injuries.

If Vanek hits the 20-minute mark in tonight’s game against the New York Islanders in Nassau Coliseum, it will mark the first time he has done that in three straight since October 2005. Back then, he was in games 3-4-5 of his career. Now, he’s a 29-year-old veteran leading the NHL in goals (10) and points (21).