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Preview: Sabres Host Capitals to Kick-Off 2020-21 Season

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After a 10-month hiatus, Buffalo is back in action to take on last season’s Metropolitan Division winner

Washington Capitals v Buffalo Sabres Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images

Game 1

Buffalo Sabres (0-0-0) vs. Washington Capitals (0-0-0)

Puck Drop: 7:00 PM EST | KeyBank Center | Buffalo, NY

TV: MSG

Radio: WGR 550

SB Nation Capitals Blog: Jasper’s Rink

Know Your Opponent

Washington Capitals (2019-20 Rankings)

Record: (41-20-8) | 90 PTS

Division Ranking: 1st in Metropolitan Division

Conference Ranking: 3rd in Eastern Conference

PP: 17th (19.4%)

PK: 6th (82.6%)

What to Watch

1. New Year, New Look Sabres

If the lines from Wednesday’s practice remain consistent, the Sabres will feature six new faces from 2019-20. Taylor Hall, Eric Staal, Tobias Rieder, Cody Eakin, Dylan Cozens, and Riley Sheahan will all look to make their presence felt early in their blue-and-gold debuts.

As the most high-profile acquisition of the offseason, the pressure is on Hall to form an immediate chemistry with Jack Eichel on the top line. This may end up being his only season with the Sabres after signing a one-year deal at the start of free-agency, so he’ll want to make it count.

On the second line, Staal is expected to fill the gaping void that has existed at center for the last two seasons. If he can replicate his production from last season with the Minnesota Wild, Buffalo will finally have an effective top-six forward group.

2. Renovated Special Teams Units

This offseason, the Sabres’ front office made a point to address the team’s lackluster special teams performance from 2019-20. After a season where their penalty-kill and power-play units ranked 30th, and 20th, respectively, the hope is that their new additions will result in a significant improvement.

On paper, the new-look power-play features a lot of offensive talent. Hall, Staal, and Cozens should provide enough of a boost to give Buffalo two competent PP-units for the first time in what feels like a decade. Following a very hot start last year, teams started to figure out the Sabres’ one-trick pony attack plan (i.e. feed Victor Olofsson), and their early numbers quickly fizzled.

As for the penalty-kill, most of the Sabres’ bottom-six additions like Rieder and Eakin were brought in specifically for their experience in that area. We’ll see if personnel was truly the issue. If Buffalo hopes to contend for a playoff spot, they cannot afford to have one of the worst shorthanded success rates in the NHL.

3. No Excuses in 2021

Last season, as the reality set-in that the Sabres would increase their playoff drought to nine years, fans were rabid in expressing their displeasure (and rightfully so). Since Terry Pegula purchased the team during the 2010-11 season, they’ve only made the playoffs once.

First-year GM, Kevyn Adams went out and obtained a lot of new blood to finally break the losing aura that has hovered over KeyBank Center for so long. With an increasingly frustrated franchise player, and a growingly disinterested fan base, the franchise must find success in 2021.

Yes, the East Division is difficult, and the COVID-19 pandemic will present unusual challenges. Still, the fallout from missing the postseason again (or at least getting close) could be severe. From the starting netminder, to the head coach, to the general manager, the stakes are high.

Projected Lineups (Based on Wednesday’s practice lines)

Buffalo Sabres

Forwards

Taylor Hall - Jack Eichel - Tage Thompson

Victor Olofsson - Eric Staal - Sam Reinhart

Jeff Skinner - Curtis Lazar - Rasmus Asplund

Tobias Rieder - Cody Eakin - Dylan Cozens

Defense

Jake McCabe - Rasmus Ristolainen

Rasmus Dahlin - Brandon Montour

Colin Miller - Henri Jokiharju

Starting Goaltender: Linus Ullmark

Washington Capitals

Forwards

Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie

Jakub Vrana - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Tom Wilson

Richard Panik - Lars Eller - Daniel Sprong

Carl Hagelin - Nic Dowd - Garnet Hathaway

Defense

Dmitri Orlov - John Carlson

Brenden Dillon - Justin Schultz

Zdeno Chara - Nick Jensen

Starting Goaltender: Ilya Samsonov