As Sabres start season, five reasons for optimism :-) ... & five for pessimism :-( - The Buffalo News

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As Sabres start season, five reasons for optimism :-) ... & five for pessimism :-(

FIVE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

1. Jack attack

Most signs point to a breakout year for Jack Eichel. He wants to be the best. Even if he's pretty darn close, he would be a point-per-game player. That means Eichel would single-handedly supply the Sabres with 25 more goals than last year (through goals or assists). Good teams have those kind of difference makers.

2. Get their Phil

It was universally acknowledged that the Sabres needed a coaching change. Phil Housley has brought positive energy and an up-tempo system. He's promised to allow the players to use their creativity – something they felt was stifled before – and it should make the dressing room a more relaxed place.

3. A deep breath

When the Sabres bottomed out, they really bottomed out. The organizational cupboard was bare. New General Manager Jason Botterill has built the depth to a respectable level. The Sabres have six forwards, three defensemen and a goaltender in Rochester who have proved they can come up and play regular minutes.

4. Feeling defensive

The infusion of talent on the blue line was the story of the summer. It looks as promising as advertised. Nathan Beaulieu's offensive instincts should make the second power-play unit better. Victor Antipin has shown speed while adjusting to a move from Russia. If Marco Scandella, Jake McCabe and Zach Bogosian get healthy, the Sabres should have three solid pairs.

5. Money talks

Players have a history of performing well in the last year of their deals. Evander Kane is in the last year of his contract. The last time that happened was 2011-12, and he set a career high with 30 goals. The left winger led Buffalo with 28 goals last season, and boosting that total would be good for the team and his future earnings.

FIVE REASONS FOR PESSIMISM

1. Crowded at the top

The top three teams in each division are guaranteed a playoff spot. Even if the Sabres improve significantly, are they a top-three team? Montreal, Toronto, Boston and Tampa Bay have a legitimate chance to win the Atlantic. That leaves Buffalo in the mix for a wild-card spot, and that's a crowded area where any slip-up is costly.

2. Learning curve

Housley acknowledged after the preseason finale that his team has a long way to go. There will be an adjustment period as players learn their roles in the system. During the opening month, the Sabres play Montreal, Anaheim, San Jose (twice), Los Angeles, Boston and Columbus. A string of losses while Buffalo gains its footing would be tough to overcome.

3. Balance of power

With the Sabres' top-end skill up front, the NHL's No. 1 power play should be good again. However, the charts are littered with one-year wonders. Since 2010-11, 19 teams have finished with a top-five power play one season and dropped out of the rankings the following year. Until Buffalo shows it can score at even strength, a deadly power play is a must.

4. Winging it

There are plenty of question marks for the Sabres, and most involve the wingers. Can Benoit Pouliot regain his scoring touch and perform on the second line? Will Seth Griffith's success in the minors translate to the NHL? Can Zemgus Girgensons become a reliable point producer? Will youngsters Justin Bailey and Nick Baptiste graduate to the big leagues?

5. Shootout woes

When it gets to a shootout, the Sabres lack pop. They scored on 22.2 percent of their shootout attempts, which ranked 27th. The goalies' save percentage of .462 ranked last. Robin Lehner (7-15) and Chad Johnson (6-8) have losing records in the breakaway challenge throughout their career. Buffalo can't throw away those points anymore.

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