With the schedule released it's time to dream. 82-0? While it's safe to assume no team will ever post a 164 point season (the highest point total in recent memory was posted by the '05-'06 Red Wings who totaled 124 points in the first post-lockout and first shootout season) and probably not even a 150 point season, the question lingers. How many points will the Sabres record?
The answer to that question still has many variables to be determined, not the least of which is what will the lineup look like on Opening Night? While we are still more than a week away from free agency and more than 100 days away from the opener in Ottawa, check out my prediction for the 2010-2011 Sabres.
Outlook: 12 games (5 home/7 away).
The good: Opening in Ottawa (8th). Nothing like opening against our arch nemesis. If the Sabres want to win the division for the second straight season, they better spit out the bitter taste of a first round ouster and play like they did the last time these two teams matched up (a 5-2 Buffalo win). A four game home stretch (9th-New York Rangers, 11th-Chicago, 13th-New Jersey, 15th-Montreal). HSBC will be rocking as Buffalo hoists the newest Northeast banner to the rafters and native-son Patrick Kane brings the Cup champs to town two nights later.
The bad: Call me a cynic but I am not a huge fan of the back-to-back games. Once in a while it's alright, but the Sabres first four weekends will be back-to-back. A four game road trip to end the month with the last two an aforementioned back-to-backer (29th-Atlanta and 30th-Dallas).
My prediction: 16 points. Buffalo should beat the Thrashers twice. If we can split with the Devils, Senators, and Blackhawks (the Sabres won the only meeting last season) beat Montreal and get another win (26th-Flyers; 30th-Stars) or get a point in two other games, we'll be off to a good start in our 40th Anniversary year.
Outlook: 13 games (8 home/5 away)
The good: A thirteen day stretch of six of seven at home (the lone trip is to the '09-'10 President Trophy winning Capitals).
The bad: Nine games against playoff teams from last season. Four more back-to-back sets.
My prediction: 19 points. It's time for revenge-the Bruins come to town on the 3rd and Buffalo would like nothing more than to send them back to Boston with a L. We own Tampa (and to a lesser extent the Rangers) of late. Splitting with Montreal, Washington, and Toronto (perhaps on November 6th in the Hall of Fame game) seems doable. Pacific teams coming east tend to have difficulty-so the Sabres should defeat the Canucks (15th) and Kings (19th). Three more points from another victory and an OTL or three sounds about right.
Outlook: 12 games (6 home/6 road)
The good: Only three back-to-back nights. And only five games against playoff teams.
The bad: Those five games against playoff teams happen in an eleven day period (4th-@ Ottawa, 7th-@ Boston, 9th-San Jose, 11th-Pittsburgh, 15th-Boston).
My prediction: 20 points. It's possible to finish the year on a six game winning streak with games against the Panthers (twice), Lightning, Ducks, Flames, and Oilers. A win against the Blue Jackets and six points in the five remaining games seems quite possible.
Outlook: 12 games (5 home/7 away)
The good: Only one back-to-back extravaganza. Three games against the lowly Isles. The NHL All-Star game is back after the Olympics forced it to take a hiatus.
The bad: A three game west coast swing against playoff teams. Four games in six nights to end the month.
My prediction: 13 points. On paper-the most difficult month of the season. Only four games against bottom feeders and while San Jose will probably take a step back without Evgeni Nabokov, I envision a difficult beginning to 2011.
Outlook: 12 games (8 home/4 away)
The good: A six (and seven of eight) game home stand to end the month. Only five games against playoff foes.
The bad: Three back-to-backers, including @ Pittsburgh (4th)/Toronto (5th) and Ottawa (25th)/Detroit (26th).
Outlook: 16 games (7 home/9 away)
The good: Only six contests against playoff teams from last year. Seven of nine at home to finish off the month.
The bad: A marathon seven game road trip. Five back-to-back contests.
My prediction: 21 points. I can see ten wins (3rd and 15th-Carolina, 6th-@ the Wild, 10th-@ Boston, 19th-Atlanta, 20th-Nashville, 22nd-@ Montreal, 25th-Florida, and splitting with both the Rangers and Maple Leafs). Add in another point from an OTL...
Outlook: 5 games (2 home/3 road)
The good: Only one "test" (2nd-@ Washington).
The bad: For the second straight year the Sabres finish on the road (9th-@ Columbus).
My prediction: 4 points. Tampa Bay should be a win. Two more points in four games? Did I mention Columbus was on the calendar?
TOTAL: 110 Points. A bit ambitious? Perhaps. But the Sabres did have 100 points last season. We may not win the President's Trophy (Washington, Pittsburgh, and Chicago will still be terrific) but this could a great season. Though the defense needs work and it would be nice to add a big body or two up front, the schedule sets up nicely for Buffalo to make a real run at the Cup.