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Season preview: Buffalo Sabres

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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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3 things to watch in Caps vs. Panthers

3 things to watch in Caps vs. Panthers

The Capitals play their last home game of October on Friday as they host the Florida Panthers (7 p.m., NBC Sports Washington). Here’s what you need to watch.

Dmitrij Jaskin is back in

Todd Reirden has made one adjustment to the lineup for Friday’s game, putting Dmitrij Jaskin back in on the fourth line in place of Nathan Walker. Jaskin has yet to record a point since joining the Capitals, but that has a lot to do with where he was coming from.

“This team is based on being creative and it's probably something that I missed in the last few years,” Jaskin said following Friday’s morning skate.

In St. Louis, Jaskin was coached by Mike Yeo and, before him, Ken Hitchcock. Both coaches preach a hard-nosed offensive style based more on effort and being defensively responsible than skill. Coming to a team like Washington then, a team that encourages skill and creativity on offense, is a pretty dramatic change.

Jaskin has played a very safe style since coming into the lineup. It’s good to be defensively responsible, but not if it completely chokes the life out of the offense. Jaskin is hardly generating any offense at all thus far since coming to Washington.

After a few more practices, can it finally spark some skill and creativity from Jaskin?

Can the Caps get the bottom six back on track?

The Caps have gotten only two goals in six games from their bottom six and both came in the team’s blowout opening win against Boston. The third and fourth lines generated some chances on Wednesday, but afterward, Reirden stressed that the team needed to see more production from its depth forwards.

“We've got to continue to get scoring depth wise if we want to have success in this league,” he said. “That's where everything's headed is you can't rely on your top guys to come through for you every night and we'll continue to focus on finding the right chemistry with that third and fourth line to be able to give us some added offense there as well.”

Florida could provide a good opportunity for those players to get some points on the board.

Starting goalie Roberto Luongo is out with an injury and James Reimer will get the start on Friday. In three games, Reimer has a GAA of 3.62 and save percentage of .885.

As a team, the Panthers currently rank 24th in goals against per game with 3.50.

Two teams in need of a win

Florida is still searching for its first win of the season with a 0-2-2 record. It is still early, but this is a Panthers team with playoff aspirations and you don’t want to dig yourself in too deep a hole to start or it becomes very difficult to dig out.

The Caps, meanwhile, will be playing in their final home game of October. They leave Saturday for Vancouver to kick-off a three-game Western Canada trip. They then will face the Canadiens in Montreal on Nov. 1 before finally returning home.

Washington’s next home game will not come until Nov. 3. That makes Friday’s game a big one for the Caps as they try to secure two points before hitting the road.

“It's definitely a big game,” Reirden said. “We want to build on some of the things we were able to accomplish last game. It's difficult anytime you go out west with time changes and different stuff. We know that [Florida is] going to be a desperate team that hasn't had the start that they want and they're talented so it's an important game for us to go on the road on a winning note.”

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The Ovechkin's posts family photo with newborn son Sergei

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The Ovechkin's posts family photo with newborn son Sergei

Capitals star Alex Ovechkin had arguably the best summer of anyone.

In June, the Capitals won their first ever Stanley Cup, and in August, Ovechkin and his wife Nastya Ovechkina welcomed their first kid.

Although Ovechkin's son Sergei is only a couple months old, the public has not seen much of him. Both Nastya and Alex posted pictures on Instagram of Sergei's foot when he was born, but neither had posted anything of him since.

In honor of Sergei's two month birthday, Nastya posted a picture of the three of them, with Alex holding Sergei in his hands. 

While it is hard to see much of Sergei, this is one of the first pictures of the couple with their newborn present. 

What a happy family! 

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