The Sabres get the season started tonight

October 5, 2017

Buffalo, NY (WGR 550) - The new look Buffalo Sabres get to showoff their progress as opening night has arrived. Brand new head coach Phil Housley has been stressing pace in each and every practice and has been frustrated at times because picking up a new system doesn't happen overnight.

You will need a program tonight because you're going to see plenty of new numbers.

Lets start with the changes on defense. Rasmus Ristolainen will not be playing with Josh Gorges this year. As a matter of fact, despite an injury to Zach Bogosian, Gorges is not in the top-six.

Ristolainen will open with former Montreal defenseman Nate Beaulieu (82). Buffalo got him in a trade and he's a guy that can get himself and the puck up ice. He's not afraid to shoot, but his accuracy rivals Alexei Zhitnik. Housley does love the shooting mentality.

Victor Antipin (93) is only 24, but he has five years of KHL experience under his belt. He's in a new country and knows very little English, but he seems very happy to be here and has improved with every preseason game he's played.

Housley has a system in the offensive zone that is designed to create confusion with movement. Nobody does that better than Antipin. He finds the holes quickly, but doesn't sacrifice his defensive play. Chances are good he'll be paired tonight with Jake McCabe (19).

McCabe won a gold medal at the World Junior Tournament as captain of Team USA where Phil Housley was his head coach. McCabe has been more active in the games and practices I've seen him in. Last year, he created many scoring chances, but couldn't convert.

Marco Scandella (6) was the prized acquisition on defense for Jason Botterill. He was very limited in the preseason due to hip surgery in May. It seems like he may not be ready to eat up the minutes that it would take to be Ristolainen's partner so he likely starts the season with Matt Tennyson (5).

Tennyson is a depth defenseman that played 45 games with Carolina last season. The 27-year old had a really good start to training camp and is here for now. Tennyson has played 105 NHL games with the Canes and Sharks and has a booming shot.

Justin Falk is also still up with Buffalo on injured reserve.

Buffalo is still searching for the forwards that can mesh with Jack Eichel and Ryan O'Reilly. Benoit Pouliot (67) was a free agent signing from Edmonton, but the 31-year old had two very poor seasons with the Oilers and did not have a good camp. Despite that, he's on the left wing with O'Reilly and Kyle Okposo.

The Sabres brought back Jason Pominville (29) in the Scandella trade and at 34, I don't think he's the answer to be on Eichel's wing with Evander Kane. Actually, I don't think the answer for either line is even on the roster yet. Sam Reinhart used to be on Eichel's wing, but Housley wants Reinhart to play center.

With the injury to Alex Nylander and the failure of Justin Bailey and Nick Baptiste to push themselves onto the roster, Seth Griffith (25) has earned the spot next to Reinhart and Zemgus Girgensons. Evan Rodrigues was having a great camp before breaking his wrist so its Griffith for now.

The 24-year old played 24 games for Florida and Toronto last year, picking up just five assists. In the AHL with the Marlies, he had 44 points in 38 games. Two years ago in Providence, he had 77 points in just 57 games.

Free agent center Jacob Josefson (10) is a former first round pick of the Devils, but is right where I thought he'd be, centering the fourth line. He'll have Johan Larsson on one side and tough winger Jordan Nolan (17) on the other. It looks like Matt Moulson is on the outside looking in.

Chad Johnson (31) was singed to backup Robin Lehner. Lehner posted a .920 save percentage last year and .924 the year before. He said in camp that there are certain parts of his game that he's been working at. The one thing that has to change is shootouts. He went 0-for the season last year not making one save in shootouts. His save percent could be .950, but if he never makes a save in shootouts, he can't be a starting goalie. If you're going to make the playoffs, you have to get some of those shootout points.

I don't know if this team can make the playoffs, but it can't be over by January. This team is good enough to make games in late March and early April matter. They regressed badly last year and it cost Dan Bylsma and Tim Murray their jobs. Housley has to figure out a way to move them forward.