Sabres fans have been without hockey for almost nine months, and finally, it is that time. On Sunday, Buffalo will host Philadelphia in front of a sold-out crowd at the First Niagara Center to open the regular season.
Buffalo’s on-ice product has a lot of work to do in order to make up for the disappointing performance last year. The Sabres fell short of the playoff mark by three points, but intend to reach the postseason for the first time since 2011.
Sunday marks game one of 48, all of which will be played in a span of 97 days. It will be a grueling schedule for not just the Sabres, but the entire NHL. In this shortened season, there may not be time for a second half surge, which the Sabres have relied on in the past two seasons.
Every game is almost twice as important, compared to a regular 82 game season. There are no meaningless games, and there is certainly no time for losing streaks this year.
So, what are the main issues that Buffalo have to overcome in order to reach the postseason?
1. Win games early – The Sabres have not been off to good starts over the past few years, and that has caused them to have to make remarkable progress in the second half. While they have done that, they are making it much harder on themselves. The Sabres need to find a way to win games early on this season. If it helps, the Sabres play eight of the final 11 games at home to end the season, but there is no such thing as an “easy” game, especially at that point in the season.
2. Overtime/Shootouts – Every point counts, and overtimes/shootouts will be extremely important this year. That extra point can make or break a season for any team, and we’ve seen it happen before. If Buffalo can find a way to avoid regulation losses and gain extra points here and there, the Sabres have a better chance of reaching the postseason.
3. Hold leads – This goes for all teams, really. The Sabres have given up leads constantly over the past couple years, and it’s embarrassing. Buffalo seems to go into defensive mode after taking the lead and just try to hang on. After taking the lead, The Sabres need to continue on the offensive attack, even if it’s a bit riskier.
Get ready for hockey, and a lot of it! Here are a couple video to get you pumped up for the season, if you need it.