March 19, 2012; Tampa FL, USA; Buffalo Sabres left wing Marcus Foligno (82) during the first period against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Tampa Bay Times Forum. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

What to Watch For

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As the NHL season is set to get underway this weekend, there’s plenty to be excited about this year in Buffalo. The Sabers have a restructured team looking to make a run at the playoffs after falling short last year. With the abbreviated hockey season, it’s really anyone’s game this year. It’s going to be an all out sprint for the cup, and if the Sabres can find some chemistry early on, I don’t see why they can’t be a postseason contender this year.

With the second lowest goal total in the league last year and ranked as an eight seed in the playoffs, the LA Kings proved that it really is anyone’s game come postseason. Jonathon Quick was by far the Kings’ most valuable commodity in their cup run last year, and with the potential in a goalie like Ryan Miller, I don’t see why the Sabres can’t have the same kind of success in the playoffs as an underdog team.

The Sabres need to tread carefully with the way they manage their goaltending this year. In the compressed schedule, the Sabres play 48 games in a total of 97 days and they can’t ride Miller for too long. The Sabres need to utilize both weapons they have at goaltender, and take advantage of Jhonas Enroth who is one of the best backups in the league.

“I like where his game’s at. I think he’s done a good job making adjustments,” Miller Said. “It’s good to have him as a partner. If the two of us get going on the type of games we can play, I think we can hold the fort.”

Look for Enroth to start at least 10 games between the pipes for Buffalo this season.

The key to the Sabres success this year will be maintaining a consistent energy level throughout the course of the short season and getting an early jump in the standings. After ditching Derek Roy, they need to be able to rely on more than just Vanek and Pominville for the bulk of their offensive production.

I believe the biggest thing to look for early this season will be the forward line of Drew Stafford, Tyler Ennis, and Marcus Foligno. If they can mesh early on and continue the success they had late last season, look for this line to be a staple in the Sabres’ offensive production this year. The 20 year old Marcus Foligno is a high intensity player with a lot of energy, and if used properly, he has the potential to be the spark the Sabres need in their offense. If his 13 points in 14 games at the end of last year is any indicator of what he’s capable of, look for him to stick around in Buffalo.

There’s been a lot of hype surrounding the Sabres first round draft pick, Mikhail Grigorenko, and as training camp continued this week, the expectations continued to rise. Everyone seems to have an opinion on this guy and what to do with him, but honestly we just have to see if the kid is ready to play in the NHL or not. Give him his 5 game try out and let Lindy decide what to do with him. If he can prove why he was once considered the top prospect in the NHL, look for him to stick around as well.

Ville Leino needs to come on strong this season and prove that he can produce the way he did with the Flyers. His below average performance last year was frustrating to say the least and the amount of money the Sabres are paying him is disgusting. He needs to step it up this season or he might be a target for a possible contract buyout.

With a healthy Tyler Myers back in the lineup, look for him to have a great year on defense. Last season when he missed a total 27 games due to injuries, his absence was noticeable as the Sabres struggled without him. Myers recently suffered an ankle injury while playing in Austria during the lockout, but he claims to be 100% going into the season. He will be a key component to the Sabres’ success at the blue line this season as long as he can stay injury free.

An area of expected improvement this year was in the toughness aspect of the Buffalo Sabres. After the events of last year, most notably in Boston, a greater physical presence was needed for the team, and with the acquisition of Steve Ott in the Derek Roy trade, and the signing of John Scott, look for the Sabres to be a tougher force on the ice this season. With his meager offensive statistics, Scott looks to be another “Andrew Peters” type player for the Sabres as a big enforcer for the team. The Sabres also resigned Patrick Kaleta to a 3 year contract.

The recent signing of Jochen Hecht was not a great move by Buffalo in my opinion. It might seem like a good idea to keep a veteran presence like him around, but the reality is he’s past his prime. A player like Hecht is not what Buffalo needs if they are going to be a serious threat for the post season. The Sabres are really focusing on their young talent this year, and keeping the injury prone and aging Jochen Hecht around doesn’t seem like a step in the right direction for the franchise.

As of right now, it’s looking like Cody Hodgson will start the season at center playing next to Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville. In Vanek’s blog, he expressed his feelings about Hodgson: “I ended the last season with Hodgson on a pretty high note. He’s a right hander, but can dish the puck to both sides great. I’m really glad that I have him back as center.”

Hodgons played very well in Rochester during the lockout so look for him to be fresh at the start of this season.

One of the biggest questions in Buffalo this year will be the status of Lindy Ruff as head coach. The Sabres have not made the post season in 3 of the last 5 seasons and Ruff’s future in Buffalo looks uncertain if the Sabres miss the playoffs again. There’s no doubt Lindy Ruff is a household name here in Buffalo, and a fan favorite among many, but that only gets you so far. As much as I would hate to see him go, I would much rather see the Sabres hoisting the Stanley Cup in June if it meant parting ways with Ruff. With 14 seasons as the head coach in Buffalo, and no championship to show for it, the era of Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff might be coming to an end sooner than later.

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Tags: Buffalo Sabres Marcus Foligno Mikhail Grigorenko Preseason Ryan Miller

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