The Sabres 2017-2018 season begins at home this Thursday, October 5 against the Montreal Canadiens. With a new coach, new general manager and a revamped Defense, the Sabres organization has high expectations for the upcoming season.
New coach Phil Housley has to be excited about the possibility of having full season contributions from Jack Eichel and Ryan O’Reilly who both missed significant time last season with injuries. Evander Kane is playing in a contract year and should be motivated to perform. He came on strong in the second half last year and finished with 28 goals after starting slowly. The Sabres as a team started slowly with Jack missing the first 21 games. Our top 3 scoring lines look strong on paper. Here are my projected lines:
Line 1 – Evander Kane- Jack Eichel- Jason Pomminville
Line 2- Zemgus Girgensons- Ryan O’Reilly- Kyle Okposo
Line 3- Johan Larsson- Sam Reinhart- Jacob Josefson
Line 4- Benoit Pouliot- Seth Griffith- Matt Moulson
I have heard that Phil Housley intends to start the season with Sam Reinhart at center. This will be beneficial to the overall lineup if he can find success in this position because it will allow the Sabres to have three legitimate scoring lines. On the third line, Josefson and Larsson have chemistry as Swedish countrymen and have both looked good in the preseason. Pouliot is a veteran who has been around the league and will provide solid depth on the checking line. Nick Deslauriers was sent down to Rochester along with Nick Baptiste and Justin Bailey, who management decided need more seasoning in the American League. With Deslauriers gone, the Sabres are lacking in toughness, but it seems that Housley is banking on speed and skill. And to be fair, the physical aspect of the game has been de-emphasized in today’s game. I don’t expect to see another situation like the one in which Milan Lucic ran Ryan Miller and the Sabres literally had nobody to stand up to him and fight. The game has changed and the league has moved correctly to get that kind of crap out of the game. However, situations do arise from time to time where physicality is required and if some yahoo decides to take a run at Jack, who do we have to stand up for him? I don’t see a lot of beef on this roster as it stands and I don’t want to see Evander Kane break his hand on someone’s face and have to miss one or two months. I know he’s good for it, but I’d rather not see Kaner fighting. He mixed it up with Ryan Reaves the other day against the Pens and Reaves is probably the toughest guy in the league. Kane’s not afraid to go with anybody but we need him healthy and scoring goals, not sitting in the box icing his hand.
Another “new” look for ‘17-‘18 is the return of Jason Pomminville. I very much like this move made by Jason Botterill to bring back a popular and productive player. He should fit in very nicely on the top line with Evander and Jack, and I look for him to score 50+ points. He knows where to be all over the ice, and his pinpoint passing and positioning will generate points on the top line and on the Power Play. I have a feeling that we’re going to be hearing Rick Jennerette adding lots of new residents to the city of “Pominville” this season.
One of the biggest improvements to the roster this year has to be the upgrades that management has made to the Defense. The poor play of the team’s defense overall was the major reason that we lost points and finished so low in the standings. There were many games where we had 1 goal leads and gave up late goals towards the ends of periods. Instead of getting regulation wins, games went to Overtime and Shootouts too often and we gave up important points. That should not happen as much this season with the improvements made on the blue line.
Some of the new players brought in include Victor Antipin from the KHL in Russia, Nathan Beaulieu from the Montreal Canadiens, and Marco Scandella, who was acquired with Jason Pomminville in that trade with Minnesota. Adding them to a returning group that includes a healthy Zach Bogosian, Jake McCabe, Stud Rasmus Ristolainen, Justin Falk and Josh Gorges makes our Defensive core a hell of a lot better than it was last season. Robin Lehner should see a much lower volume of shots this year and won’t have to stand on his head to keep the team in games. He still needs to improve on his positioning and crease awareness, but if he sees shots, he stops them.
Look for Big Z Zemgus Girgensons to show us what he can do this year. On a top line with Kyle Okposo and Ryan O’Reilly, he is going to be let loose to fly all around the rink and score. Dan Bylsma kept the reins on Big Z the last couple years but Phil Housley is ready to let the thoroughbred loose. He’s got great hands and can put the puck in the net. O’Reilly is just as good behind the net as he is in front of it and he will find Okposo and Big Z with crisp passes for scoring chances.
The Sabres have the pieces they need to make a return to the playoffs if they stay healthy. We were close last year with a horrible defense and missing Eichel for 21 games. With a competent defense and a full season of Jack, who looks like he will be playing for a max contract this season, I think the playoffs are a definite possibility. We have the offensive talent and Phil Housley’s up-tempo style will play to this team’s strength. With Chad Johnson returning to the team, we have help for Lehner if he struggles again this season. Chad Johnson was Calgary’s starting goalie last year when they went to the playoffs. The dude can play.
Get ready for Thursday night guys, get ready to watch the start of the hockey resurgence in Buffalo. The Bills look like world beaters and the Sabres’ guys are ready to show the NHL what’s up in Buffalo. We get no national love and that’s just fine with us. We will show them on the field and on the ice. I have a feeling that all of those who are doubting Buffalo sports will soon change their tunes.
Let’s Go Sabres, Let’s Go Bills, LETS GO BUFFALO!