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Revamped blue line a key to success

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With the additions of Marco Scandella, Victor Antipin and Nathan Beaulieu, the Sabres sport a new-look defense

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One of the biggest issues for the Buffalo Sabres last season was a lack of talent on the blue line. Owner Terry Pegula and newly-signed general manager, Jason Botterill, quickly addressed this issue over the summer as the Sabres’ front office made notable upgrades to their defense.

These included the signings of Victor Antipin and Nathan Beaulieu, and trading for Marco Scandella from the Minnesota Wild. Most importantly, however, is the addition of defensively-minded head coach, Phil Housley, who was influential on the success of the Nashville Predators blue line last season – a team that arguably had the best top four defenseman in the NHL. All of these additions are crucial to the Buffalo’s success and should help the team in multiple aspects.

Out of the many changes made this offseason, the addition of Scandella is perhaps the most impactful. Scandella is key addition due to his abilities inside the defensive zone, and aggressive playing style that will certainly improve the amount of time that the Sabres spend in their own zone.

“He does everything really well. He’s got a huge shot. He’s a horse to play against defensively.” – Jason Pominville

Scandella’s defensive-first mentality could also help in limiting the number of shots that Robin Lehner or Chad Johnson face per game. While Scandella is not often described as an offensive defenseman, it is not unreasonable to assume that he may add over 20 points if he stays healthy, especially if often paired with Rasmus Ristolainen.

The other notable addition is former KHL player, Victor Antipin, who will be entering his first year in the NHL and is looking to make an immediate impact. Antipin is a fantastic defenseman, especially when backed into his own zone, where he is excellent at clearing pucks from the front of the net as well as blocking close range shots.

“I like to play attack during the rush, skate the puck. I see how [Housley] played on video, he was a good defenseman and I like how he played, so I want to play like he played.” – Antipin

Antipin also has a particular knack for getting points as he often enters the rush from the wing and utilizes his quick release to beat the netminder. Antipin will be an interesting player to watch this season as it is unknown how well or how quickly he will adapt to the fast-paced play of the NHL, along with being on a smaller ice surface than he is used to in Russia.

Finally, Beaulieu was welcomed to Buffalo after a five-year stint in Montreal. While the young defenseman didnt live up to Montreals expectations, Beaulieu still remains a solid option who will most likely play on the third pairing with Antipin as they both attempt to prove themselves.

Beaulieu added 28 points with Montreal last season, a number that shouldnt be overlooked considering he played slightly less than a full season and did not receive top line minutes. Beaulieu could be a pleasant surprise under Housleys system.

It took 17 games for the Sabres defense to score a goal during the 2016-17 season, with Cody Franson finally breaking the slump. With a new and improved defense, the team might see that first defensive goal happen much sooner.

An improved defensive unit may be pivotal in helping the team pose a threat in the standings as Buffalo looks to end the second-longest playoff drought in the NHL.

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Latest transactions:

Date
Player
Pos
Move
1/19Nicholas BaptisteRW
1/17Casey NelsonD
1/12Linus UllmarkG
1/12Brendan GuhleD
1/10Jacob JosefsonC

NHL Standings

DIVTEAMGPRECPTS
Atlantic Division Leaders:
A4631-12-365
A4527-10-862
A4826-17-557
Metropolitan Division Leaders:
M4828-15-561
M4524-13-856
M4726-18-355
Wild Card leaders:
M4723-16-854
M4824-19-553
-----------------------------------------
M4925-21-353
M4824-20-452
M4721-18-850
A4519-20-644
A4719-22-644
A4518-20-743
A4415-20-939
A4611-26-931
DIVTEAMGPRECPTS
Central Division Leaders:
C4828-13-763
C4528-11-662
C4928-18-359
Pacific Division Leaders:
P4631-11-466
P4626-14-658
P4725-16-657
Wild Card leaders:
C4827-17-458
C4627-16-357
-----------------------------------------
C4826-17-557
P4725-17-555
P4822-17-953
C4722-19-650
P4721-23-345
P4718-23-642
P4912-28-933