Opening week thoughts

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In less than a week, the Buffalo Sabres will be opening the season at home against the Boston Bruins. There is new hope and a reason to believe that this team can find their way back to the postseason.

But first, here are some thoughts heading into the regular season:

  • The Sabres desperately need to have a decent start to the season. Since Jack Eichel joined the roster, the Sabres have opened the month of October with records of 4-7-0, 3-3-2, and 3-7-2. In each of those years, the team wasn’t much better in November, more or less ending their playoff chances two months in. The numbers show if you’re team is not in a playoff position by Thanksgiving you have only a 25% chance of making the postseason. So a strong start means a lot long term. Additionally, just for overall team and fan energy having the team not be a doormat and actually competitive would go a long way to helping to bring some true vibrancy at KeyBank Center.
  • After opening the season with four straight games at home, the Sabres take to the road for their longest road trip of the year. In five games, the Sabres take on the defending Western Conference Champion Vegas Golden Knights, the Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks, Arizona Coyotes, and Anaheim Ducks. If the Sabres can win just three of those games or come out with at least six points they will be sitting in a decent spot.
  • Sam Reinhart finished last season with 20 goals and 39 points in his last 44 games of the season. He just signed a two-year bridge contract that is a prove-it deal. Reinhart has shown the ability to be a strong scoring threat where the idea of 30 goals and 60 points in a season seems very possible. He also has started quite slowly in all three of his seasons, but can Reinhart finally put a complete season together? If so, it will go a long way towards the Sabres playoff hopes.
  • In Phil Housley’s first year as coach, Buffalo’s power play plummeted from 4th overall to 19th in the league. Additionally, Buffalo allowed the 3rd highest amount of shorthanded goals, something which became almost a running joke among media and fans. The penalty kill was just as putrid finishing in the bottom third in the league. Teams that make the playoffs generally have special teams play that is in the top half of the league. The power play, with all of the new additions, should see improvement while the penalty kill remains a question mark, especially with Ryan O’Reilly’s departure.
  • Last year, the Sabres won the season series against Boston three games to one. Boston is a bit of an enigma heading into the 2018-19 season with a lot of aging veteran players like Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara, mixed with some nice young pieces like Charlie McAvoy and David Pastrnak. Boston is the type of team Buffalo needs to continue their success against if they look to rise above them in the standings. The Bruins certainly will challenge for the playoffs, but the Atlantic is looking more competitive than it has been in a while so even they will have their work cut out this season.
  • Rasmus Dahlin comes in with some big expectations, so what should we possibly expect scoring wise? Here are the point totals of the top scoring rookie defenseman over the last five years:
    • 2017-18 Will Butcher 44 pts (0.54 pts ppg)
    • 2016-17 Zack Werenski 47 pts (0.60 pts ppg)
    • 2015-16 Shayne Gostisbehere 47 pts (0.72 pts ppg)
    • 2014-15 John Klingberg 40 pts (0.62 pts ppg)
    • 2013-14 Torey Krug 40 pts (0.51 pts ppg)
      Most of these defenseman did not start the season in the NHL, something Dahlin will be doing. A reasonable season for Dahlin would be a stat line around 12 goals and 49 pts. That would line up with Tyler Myers’ Calder trophy campaign in 2009-10 and be a pretty strong year for any first year defenseman. The gold standard for rookie defensive performance would be Ray Bourque in 1979-80 with 65 pts in his first year or Brian Leech in 1988-89 when he put up an impressive 23 goals and 71 points in his first full season.
  • The Sabres have been the NHL’s lowest scoring team for years now, barely breaking 200 goals a season. That averages out to 2.4 goals a game, which means some pretty boring hockey for fans. You would have to go back to the 2011-12 season for the last time Buffalo was around league average in goals score when they finished 16th overall. That was also the last season a Sabres player broke 70 points in a year when Jason Pominville finished the season with 30 goals and 73 points. In each of the last two seasons, Jack Eichel was at a pace to finish with 76 points. Here’s to hoping he finally gets an injury-free season to shine.
Craig Mazuchowski
SUNY Oswego Alumni. Self-taught guitarist. I've been a Sabres and hockey fan since birth. I've also refereed youth hockey and play in a men’s league. My tombstone will be in the shape of pizza.
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