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Camp Preview: Defending the Prize

In preparation for the Buffalo Sabres training camp that begins on September 14th, I will have a new feature called Camp Preview.  Every Sunday we will have a new post regarding the 2007-2008 Buffalo Sabres.

August 19th: Defending the Prize
August 26th: No offense Taken
September 2nd: Put me in coach
September 9th: Follow the leader

It is no secret that last season the Buffalo Sabres were the best team in the regular season winning the President's Trophy for the first time in franchise history.  The path the Sabres took to get there was to play a run and gun offensive style while creating opportunities for the opponents to take advantage of a lack of defense.  The Sabres were the President's Trophy winners last season but they failed to get the prize they were really coveting, The Stanley Cup.  They would love to be the best team in the regular season again but they will attempt for bigger things this season.

Everyone in the organization has made it abundantly clear that they will be more concerned about defense this season.  The possibility of having a more conventional defensive checking line has also been discussed.  Buffalo Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff has stated numerous times that this team will not resemble the Sabres teams that had Dominic Hasek as the goaltender but they will be more concerned about the defensive end.    Last season the Sabres led the league in goals scored with 308 and allowed 242.  This gave the Sabres a +66 in goal differential which is outstanding.  The Sabres were eliminated in the playoffs last season by the Ottawa senators who were also a +66 but allowed twenty less goals with 222.  It is the Sabres belief that the Senators were more prepared to play the style of play necessary to win in the playoffs.

The Sabres have not changed their personnel in order to play more defensive but instead will just play a little bit different style.  The defense remains the same with Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman expected to be the Sabres top defensive pairing.  Brian Campbell will once again be the Sabres most versatile defenseman playing well in both the offensive and defensive zone.  Campbell is a guy I find to be intriguing because he does play so well in the offensive zone, I just wonder if the new focus on defense will harness some of his offensive skills.  In my opinion Lindy is going to let Campbell play his style of game and will try to harness his offensive skills.  Once again the Sabres will welcome back the steady veteran Teppo Numminen.  Jaroslav Spacek is guy who has been talked about considerably by Sabres fans because of the disappointing season he had a year ago, I'm going to go out on a limb and say he will have a good bounce back season.    Dmitri Kalinin has just about worn out his welcome in Buffalo.  Kalinin can wow you at times with some of the outstanding plays he made but at other times he leaves you shaking your head in amazement at the dumb mistakes he makes.  It's that lack of consistency that could find Kalinin as the odd man out with Nathan Paetsch expected to get more playing time.  Paetsch just signed a three-year deal and is expected to play a more visable role for the Sabres this season.

It will be interesting to see how the Sabres utilize their forwards in an effort to play a little bit more defensive.  The top defensive forward on the team is quite possibly Derek Roy but he is expected to play on one of the top two lines.  Players like Paul Gaustad, Daniel Paille, Michael Ryan, and Jochen Hecht will be asked to play that defensive style against the opposing teams top players.

The Sabres will still rely on Ryan Miller as their top goaltender but they went out and upgraded the backup position by signing Jocelyn Thibault.  Thibault should be a big upgrade over Ty Conklin and will probably play 15-20 games this season.  Miller is the go to guy and has proved that he can thrive in the Sabres system that focuses on offense over the defense.  I would expect that Miller is happy to hear that the Sabres will focus on defense more than last season.

The idea of the Sabres playing a more defensive style is not earth shattering news but is important to note.  The Sabres realize they have some outstanding offensive talent and will continue to allow their forwards to be creative just not take as many chances.

Next Sunday will be installment number two of the Camp Preview.  Next week's topic will be "No Offense Taken".  Make sure to check out why the Sabres will still be a good offensive team despite the loss of some key forwards.