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Sabres' blue-liners embrace theory that best defense is a good offense

Before the Sabres took the ice, they got together on the golf course. There was a long-drive contest, and Phil Housley was interested to see who bombed the ball longest.

Once he learned it was Marco Scandella, the coach broke into a big grin.

"It was good to see a D-man hit the long drive," the former defenseman said.

The blue-liners have to keep soaring for Buffalo to end its six-year playoff drought.

The Sabres' defensive additions were the talk of the offseason, and they finally paired up Friday as the team started training camp. Buffalo's depth was immeasurably better than the past few years.

No. 1 defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen started with prized rookie Brendan Guhle. Marco Scandella skated with Zach Bogosian. Nathan Beaulieu worked alongside free-agent signee Matt Tennyson. Jake McCabe joined Taylor Fedun. Justin Falk skated with Russian import Victor Antipin. Throw in Josh Gorges, Casey Nelson and Cody Goloubef, and the Sabres had plenty of experience and mobility at their disposal.

"This team has a lot of talent," Scandella said in HarborCenter. "Now it's up to us to make it happen."

Scandella was the marquee addition during the summer. Acquired from Minnesota along with right wing Jason Pominville, the 27-year-old is expected to blossom into a top-pair defender.

"Coming to a new team, it feels like my first year again," the eighth-year pro said. "Just the hunger to get out there and be the best.

"I just want to show what I can do on the ice and work my way into the role that I earn."

Scandella on Sabres: 'I’m super excited about the new challenge I have'

It wouldn't be a surprise to see Scandella skating with Ristolainen by the time camp ends. Both have offensive flair combined with stay-at-home ability and a nasty streak. It could be the long-sought top pairing Buffalo needs to shut down opponents.

Having reliable second and third pairs is just as important. Ristolainen has started at an All-Star pace the past two seasons, but an avalanche of minutes wore him down. On paper, the Sabres finally have the pieces to give Ristolainen a break.

"It takes a lot of pressure off Risto, for sure," McCabe said. "A guy playing 27, 28 minutes a night, it's hard on your body. I know he would never say he wants to play less because he wants to be to be out there every shift just because of the competitor he is, but to have that depth on the back end is huge."

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To a man, the defenders are excited to have Housley at the helm. They know how much success Nashville had with him coaching them to be aggressive. They've seen this year's game plan, and they relish the thought of rivaling the Predators' back end of P.K. Subban, Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis.

"They played with the puck a lot, so I hated to play against them because we really didn't have the puck," Ristolainen said. "We talked about the system, and it sounds great. I like to play offense. I like to skate. I like to jump in the play, so it's going to be good."

Skating ability will be imperative for the Sabres' defense corps. Once a blue-liner makes a pass from his own zone, he'll be expected to turn on the jets and join the play. Sometimes, he'll get in position to shoot. On other occasions, he'll be expected to hold the blue line and prevent the puck from getting back out.

Either way, lollygagging will be unacceptable.

"Once you make that first pass, you're making those three hard strides to get up the ice," McCabe said. "We have to get a better habit of taking those three hard strides.

"You watch Nashville last year and it was the D driving the offense, and us defensemen were kind of watching that. That alone was fun to watch. We want to play that style."

Sabres see chance to do something special as they arrive at camp

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