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Season preview: Buffalo Sabres

eichel.jpg

Season preview: Buffalo Sabres

To get you ready for the 2015-16 season, we will be previewing all 30 NHL in 30 days, division by division. Check the bottom of the page for a schedule of each preview.

Today’s team: Buffalo Sabres

2014-15 record: 23-51-8, 8th in the Atlantic

How they finished: Did not make the playoffs

Coach: Dan Bylsma (1st season)

Notable additions: G Robin Lehner, C David Legwand, C Ryan O'Reilly, LW Jamie McGinn, C Jack Eichel

Notable subtractions: D Nikita Zadorov, C Cody Hodgson, G Anders Lindback, D Andrej Meszaros

RELATED: Report: Russian defenseman in talks with Caps

Schedule against the Capitals: Mon. Dec. 28 at Buffalo, Wed. Dec. 30 at Washington, Sat. Jan. 16 at Buffalo

Outlook: Despite a horrific 2014-15 season, the long winter in Buffalo may finally be over. 

The Sabres may have missed out on the Connor McDavid sweepstakes, but Jack Eichel is a pretty good consolation prize. Eichel alone, however, is not what Sabres fans should be excited about.

For my money, Buffalo is the most improved team in the NHL. That doesn't mean I think Eichel is better than McDavid--he's not-- but let's face it, the Sabres were an embarrassment last season. Now, their roster looks fairly competitive. They're not the best team, they just had the highest hill to climb and they made up the most ground.

Along with the notable additions mentioned above, the Sabres also added Evander Kane, who did not play after being traded to Buffalo last season, and head coach Dan Bylsma who led Pittsburgh to a Stanley Cup in 2009.

So what's holding them back? Look at the additions again. Notice something? The Sabres did not do much to improve defensively. Josh Gorges, Rasmus Ristolainen, Zach Bogosian and Mike Weber will likely make up the top four and after that, it's anyone's guess. There's a handful of young options the Sabres can turn to including Jake McCabe, but chances are the third pairing will be a weakness for the team this season.

Buffalo is also taking a gamble in net by turning the keys over to Robin Lehner. Lehner has a 2.88 GAA and .914 save percentage in 86 NHL games and is coming off a concussion that limited him to 25 games last season. The Sabres, however, are all in on Lehner as Chad Johnson is his backup. Johnson is a dependable backup, but not someone the team can turn to for an extended period of time if Lehner doesn't pan out. There's no Plan B in net.

One other slight problem, on the heels of signing his seven-year, $52.5-million contract with the Sabres, O'Reilly drove into a Tim Hortons while impaired and could face punishment from the team and the league.

Expectations: As much as this team appears to have improved, it is all based on potential. We don't know how well Eichel will be as a rookie, how well Kane will be on a new team after shoulder surgery, O'Reilly's status or if Lehner is truly ready to be a No. 1 goalie. 

The Sabres can make things interesting and will be in the mix for the postseason for the majority of the season, but will ultimately fall short. Still, they're on the right track and after the worst two-year stretch in team history, fans will likely just be happy to see their team competitive again.

MORE CAPS: How good was the Caps offseason?

See more team previews:

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 
Winnipeg Jets

Atlantic Division 
Boston Bruins
Detroit Red Wings 8/17 
Florida Panthers 8/18 
Montreal Canadiens 8/19 
Ottawa Senators 8/20
Tampa Bay Lightning 8/21 
Toronto Maple Leafs 8/22

Metropolitan Division 
Carolina Hurricanes 8/23 
Columbus Blue Jackets 8/24 
New Jersey Devils 8/25 
New York Islanders 8/26 
New York Rangers 8/27 
Philadelphia Flyers 8/28 
Pittsburgh Penguins 8/29 
Washington Capitals 8/30

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Believe it or not, this isn't the first D.C. vs. Vegas postseason matchup

Believe it or not, this isn't the first D.C. vs. Vegas postseason matchup

In what is perhaps the most unexpected Stanley Cup Final pairing in recent memory, the Washington Capitals and the Las Vegas Golden Knights are going to make history this year.

Either it is going to be the first expansion team to win a title in their first season, or it will be a team looking to end a 27-year title drought for one of the biggest cities in the United States.

But what it will not be is the first D.C. vs. Vegas postseason matchup.

Going even farther back than the Capitals last Stanley Cup appearance (1998), the Georgetown Hoyas and UNLV Rebels met in the 1991 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.

Sin City took the first, and up until now, the only postseason bout between these two cities. The Larry Johnson-led University of Las Vegas squad powered right past the Hoyas in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament.

[D.C. sports and Second Rounds, I know right?]

Coming fresh off the NCAA title in 1990, UNLV waltzed right to the Final Four before meeting their demise against Duke. It also ended up being the last game for Dikembe Mutombo in a Georgetown uniform.

While in all likely-hood this will not be the final game/ series for Alex Ovechkin rocking the red, it may be his last and only chance for him to play this far into a postseason.

In the past two seasons, Vegas has gone from zero professional teams to having a Stanley Cup contender, a WNBA franchise, and lined up to take over the Oakland Raiders in 2020. 

Now time for the Golden Knights' Cinderella story to come up a little bit short. 

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Capitals listed as underdogs in their first Stanley Cup since 1998

Capitals listed as underdogs in their first Stanley Cup since 1998

The odds have never gone the way of the Washington Capitals.

After years of being the common pick to finally break through and win the Stanley Cup, this was most definitely not the year.

Yet, here we are with the Capitals as one of the final two teams standing.

For their upcoming Stanley Cup Final, the Caps are the underdogs against the Las Vegas Golden Knights.  The opening line from OddsShark has the Golden Knights as -135 money line favorites to win the Stanley Cup. The Capitals were listed as +115 underdogs.

Vegas (the betting entity, not the team) has not exactly been the most reliable this year though. After all, the Golden Knights were 100/1 odds to win the whole thing. Now they are four games away.

In their past two series, Washington was not the favorites. The Capitals have not been favorites since the First Round against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

For years in the Alex Ovechkin era, they have been the favorites to not only go on to play for the Stanley Cup but winning it.

In 2018 they started the season tied for the fifth best odds to win the Cup (14/1), one of their lowest opening marks in the past decade. For the full perspective, Washington was tied with the Toronto Maple Leafs and behind the Dallas Stars at the start of the season.

Without question this underdog role has fit them quite well, they shouldn’t want anything to change heading into the biggest postseason series in 20 years for Washington D.C.

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