The Buffalo Sabres open their 2012-2013 season Sunday with a home game against the Philadelphia Flyers, and as far as opening games go, this baby should be a blast.
If you plan on attending the game at the First Niagara Center, I strongly advise you not to leave your seat . . . ever. This game might have so much scoring that it carries into the intermissions.
Likewise, if you’re watching at home, and you don’t have the means to pause live TV, make sure you’re using a long extension cord to watch, because you might find yourself carrying your television everywhere you go.
I’m not about to make it a habit to start making game-by-game predictions (I have already set myself up to look foolish here), but I would be shocked if there are less than eight combined goals scored in this game. Teams are rusty, lines have not gelled, and lots of mistakes will be made. If you’re looking for a defensive battle, you might want to look elsewhere; opening weekend is going to resemble youth hockey more than the professional hockey we have come to know. It might be messy, but I promise it won’t be boring!
What The Sabres Must Do To Win
1. Keep the emotions in check. I know every NHL player is relieved that the lockout has ended, and that it’s finally time to drop the puck and play the game, so every team playing this weekend is going to have to deal with that. Home teams such as the Sabres, however, are also going to have an almost impossible time doing that, as hockey-starved, wildly enthusiastic crowds amplify the emotions the players already feel. As it is, Sabres players are already riding on an emotional high, what with the incredible demand for tickets their fans have demonstrated, and the huge turnout of over 10,000 people to the free scrimmage Monday night. Home openers are always extra special, but this level of heightened emotion is almost unprecedented, and dangerous. The Sabres will have a much more difficult time reigning it all in, but they must find a way or else they could fall behind one or two goals early on and have to spend the rest of the game clawing their way back.
2. Get to Bryzgalov early. Flyers’ goalie Ilya Bryzgalov is a space cadet. Seriously – the dude dressed up in a space suit at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Russia. See for yourself! (Sorry – it’s in Russian. And it’s still hilarious.)
So, yeah! Is there any goalie in the NHL you would feel less confident about? There’s no question he is talented – he did post three consecutive shutouts in 2011-2012, setting a Flyers team record by going 249:43 without giving up a goal – but good lord, the man is crazy. The Sabres need to score early, then pound in one or two more, and Bryzgalov will implode like a star turning into a black hole.
3. Unleash the kids. I’ve already started banging this drum, but it never hurts to remind everyone – is there a better scenario for young, creative, free-wheeling players than a 48-game, shortened season? I think not. Defenses are going to get better as the year goes on, but they are not going to dominate league play as they did in previous years, and early on, you might think you were watching the All-Star Game. If the ice truly opens up like I think it will this weekend, it might be worth Lindy Ruff‘s time to consider throwing together some lines that consist almost entirely of his youngest weapons. Tyler Ennis, Cody Hodgson, Marcus Foligno – their speed, energy, and raw talent could burn the Flyers defense a few times on Sunday. And Lindy? PLAY GRIGORENKO!
4. Be ready for the onslaught. The flyers can score. A lot. They were ranked second in the league in goals scored in 2011-2012, and had the sixth best power play. They got 65 combined goals from Scott Hartnell and Wayne Simmonds last year, and had four guys score 20+ goals, with two others (Maxime Talbot and and Jaromir Jagr) just missing that mark with 19. Oh, and I totally forgot: they have Claude Giroux, he of the 28 goals, 65 points, and the ranking of 6th best player in the NHL over at bleacher report. Even without Danny Briere in their lineup (hairline fracture in wrist), they should provide some offensive firepower to Sunday’s game. The Sabres coaching staff has to prepare the team for this reality. Giving up an early goal can’t unnerve the boys in blue and gold; they just have to stay after it, knowing that their chances will come, too. It wouldn’t hurt to see Ryan Miller make a few timely saves – the momentum swings he provides will be especially helpful for the Sabres’ young studs.
5. Remain disciplined. As much as the Flyers can score, when you think of this organization, three words inevitably come to mind: Broad Street Bullies. The Flyers have always prided themselves on defense, and a tenacious style of play. Last year’s defense was formidable, ranking 20th in goals against . . . but they were also the most penalized team in all of hockey, and tried to turn the sport into MMA during the playoffs. Against even less disciplined team like the Penguins, it worked to Philly’s advantage. Against an extremely savvy and disciplined team like the Devils, it resulted in a pretty weak showing and a series in which they could only muster one win. I’m willing to bet the Flyers are going to come into town and try to push, shove and bully the Sabres all day long, and the Sabres have to use that to their advantage. I want to see them display a little more backbone this year, but that doesn’t mean the Sabres need to match the Flyers penalty for penalty. Let the Flyers send their guys to the sin bin, since, with Chris Pronger still out, they should be susceptible when it comes to killing off penalties.
From where I sit, all signs point to this being one wild opening game, so let the countdown to Sunday begin!
Agree? Disagree? Both? Leave a comment, or find me on Twitter @theaveragedick.