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2016-17 NHL season preview: Buffalo Sabres

2016-17 NHL season preview: Buffalo Sabres

It still feels like the season just ended, but with the draft and free agency already behind us, it's time to look forward to the 2016-17 season. We will preview every team in the NHL throughout August and take a look at what the new season may hold.

Team: Buffalo Sabres

How they did last season: 35-36-11 (81 points), 7th in the Atlantic, 14th in the Eastern Conference. Did not make the playoffs.

Notable acquisitions: RW Kyle Okposo, G Anders Nilsson, D Dmitry Kulikov

Notable departures: G Chad Johnson, D Mark Pysyk

When they will play the Caps: Nov. 25 in Washington; Dec. 5 in Washington; Dec. 9 in Buffalo


Analysis: The Buffalo Sabres were the runners-up in the Connor McDavid sweepstakes in 2015, having to settle instead of Jack Eichel. Eichel’s season was largely overshadowed by McDavid, but with 56 points in this rookie campaign Eichel proved to be as good as advertised.

The Sabres brought a lot of intriguing pieces together in 2015 and continued that this summer with the additions of Kyle Okposo and Dmitry Kulikov.

In Okposo, the Sabres are getting a player who should produce 50-60 points. Add that to an offense that already boasts Ryan O’Reilly, Sam Reinhart and Eichel who is only going to get better and you have to think Buffalo will improve on its 25th ranked offense last season.

The Evander Kane era may be over in Buffalo as he faces assault charges from an incident at a local bar in June, but the addition of Okposo more than makes up for the loss.

The Kulikov trade came at a steep price as the Sabres had to give up the promising Mark Pysyk to Florida, but Kulikov will immediately step into the top four, probably the top pairing.

When you look at this roster you see no reason why this team can't compete for a wild card spot...and then you get to the goaltending.

As the Sabres attempted to rebuild the team in 2015 with Eichel, Kane, Ryan O’Reilly and Dan Bylsma as head coach, they also traded for Robin Lehner and made him their starter in net. Statistically, Lehner is very good, but he also has not played more than 36 games in a season. Plus, the team lost backup Chad Johnson this summer and replaced him with Anders Nilsson. No one could call that an upgrade.

If Lehner does not play up to the level the Sabres expect or if he gets injured as he did last season, there’s no Plan B currently on the roster.

Season prediction: I’ll be honest, I loved the moves the Sabres made last season and thought they would be much better than they were. Earning only 81 points was a surprise to me. This year I again look at the roster and find myself saying this team could easily be a wild card team.

I like the additions of Okposo and Kulikov and, though I don’t trust Lehner, there should be enough talent on the ice and behind the bench with Bylsma as coach to keep the Sabres competitive all season.

Looking at the Atlantic, are the Sabres really that far away from teams like Detroit, Boston and Ottawa?

My praise of Buffalo may have been premature last year, but this season I like them to at least compete for a playoff spot. They won’t threaten teams like Washington or Pittsburgh for the conference, but this is the year you see real progress on the ice for Buffalo.



Pacific Division
— Anaheim Ducks
— Arizona Coyotes
— Calgary Flames
— Edmonton Oilers
— Los Angeles Kings
— San Jose Sharks
— Vancouver Canucks

Central Division
— Chicago Blackhawks
— Colorado Avalanche
— Dallas Stars
— Minnesota Wild
— Nashville Predators
— St. Louis Blues
— Winnipeg Jets

Atlantic Division
— Boston Bruins
— Buffalo Sabres
— Detroit Red Wings
Florida Panthers 
Montreal Canadiens (coming Aug. 19)
Ottawa Senators (coming Aug. 20)
Tampa Bay Lightning (coming Aug. 21)
Toronto Maple Leafs (coming Aug. 22)

Metropolitan Division
Carolina Hurricanes (coming Aug. 23)
Columbus Blue Jackets (coming Aug. 24)
New Jersey Devils (coming Aug. 25)
New York Islanders (coming Aug. 26)
New York Rangers (coming Aug. 27)
Philadelphia Flyers (coming Aug. 28)
Pittsburgh Penguins (coming Aug. 29)
Washington Capitals (coming soon)

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3 reasons the Caps beat the Sabres

3 reasons the Caps beat the Sabres

The Caps could not shake Buffalo for two periods, but a dominant finish on Saturday helped them pull away for a 5-1 win. Here's how they finally put away the Sabres.

A quick start

Strong starts go a long way towards helping a team in the middle of a slump. It's a confidence boost for a group in desperate need of one and the Caps got that boost on Saturday from Evgeny Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov used his wheels to zip in behind the defense and score just 50 seconds into the game. Washington led 1-0 at the end of the first, just the second time in 19 games they have held a lead after the opening 20 minutes.


Andre Burakovsky snapping a second period slump

It looked in the second period like the Caps were caught trying to protect the lead again, but Andre Burakovsky woke the team back up with his incredible highlight end-to-end goal. It really looked like Buffalo was going to tie the game at one, but instead, Burakovsky extended the lead to two. Going end to end the way he did shows a player who is starting to play with some confidence, something Burakovsky has lacked for much of the season.

Ovechkin's two-goal third period

Buffalo would not go away. Sam Reinhart got the Sabres on the board just 14 seconds into the third period and suddenly the Caps found themselves in a one-goal game again. But Ovechkin ended any hopes for the comeback as he struck in the top corner of the net on the power play from the office. He would later add a deflection goal to extend the lead to 5-1, giving a scuffling Washington team the dominant win they so sorely needed.

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3 stars of the game: Caps erupt in 3rd for dominant win over Sabres

3 stars of the game: Caps erupt in 3rd for dominant win over Sabres

The Capitals needed a win in the worst way and they got one, dispatching the Buffalo Sabres in dominating fashion with a 5-1 win.

Washington was locked in a tight game leading 2-0 heading into the third period when Sam Reinhart scored just 14 seconds into the period to pull Buffalo to within one. The Caps then slammed the door shut, scoring three unanswered goals to put away the Sabres.

Here are the three stars of the game.

1. Alex Ovechkin: This was career game No. 983 for Ovechkin, tying him for the franchise record for most games played with Calle Johansson. Ovechkin very fittingly celebrated the occasion with two goals. The first came on a power play goal from the office, but there was no need for a one-timer on this one. The Sabres gave him all the time he needed to aim up the shot and wrist it into the top corner.

He added a second goal late off a deflection from a John Carlson shot.

2. Evgeny Kuznetsov: To say the Caps have struggled at the start of games would be an understatement. In the last 18 games, Washington has held the lead after the first period only once. Kuznetsov made sure this game started off on the right foot as he scored just 50 seconds into the game. He turned on the jets in the neutral zone to turn the edge on Jason Pominville then easily skated around a weak, ill-advised challenge from Robin Lehner before flinging the puck into the yawning net.

It was the fastest goal to start a game by the Caps this season. It was just the start of what would be a four-point night for the Caps' center as he added three assists.

3. Andre Burakovsky: Burakovsky had the highlight of the game with his end-to-end goal in the second period to put Washington up 2-0. He looked like he was shot out of a cannon as he launched himself from the defensive zone, streaked down the center of the ice and in on net to slide the puck through the Lehner's five-hole.

Look how Burakovsky was able to slice through the Sabres' defense. Buffalo had him surrounded, but his speed caught the Sabres off-guard and they were not able to recover in time to actually slow him down.