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Cover to cover: A look inside The News' annual NHL Preview Section

For hockey fans who can't get enough of the Sabres, today is your day. The Buffalo News' annual NHL Preview Section is on newsstands and online.

Here's the rundown of what awaits, with links to each story in the 16-page preview.

*Cover Story by John Vogl -- Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart are inseparable. They’re housemates in Buffalo and roommates on the road. They sit next to each other on the plane and skate together at the rink.

The plan is to take that partnership to the national level, to become one of those iconic NHL duos that need no introduction. Crosby and Malkin. Kane and Toews.

Eichel and Reinhart.

If they make it, thank Jake McCabe for keeping them healthy.

*Sabres season preview -- In order for the Sabres to make the leap from respectability to playoff contender, confidence needs to permeate the dressing room. They need to know they can handle heavyweights such as Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and Chicago. They need to believe it every time they skate on the ice.

“We’re starting to mature and become a team that knows what it takes to win games on a nightly basis,” captain Brian Gionta said. “It’s one thing to do it here and there, but to do it all the time and consistently, that’s what we need to strive for.”

As the Sabres enter the 2016-17 season, they’re continually reflecting on second half of last year. In the last 33 games, they went 16-10-7. In the final month, they went 8-3-2.

They started to believe. It’s time to find out if they’re true believers.

*Ten things vital to the Sabres' season -- Robin Lehner. Evander Kane. Tim Murray. You, the fans. Find out why and how they'll impact the year.

*Robin Lehner is taking shape in goal, by Amy Moritz -- Corey Webster has trained a number of professional fighters in his coaching career. His knowledge of boxing, kick boxing and mixed martial arts has given him the opportunity to work with other athletes looking for a different type of offseason workout.

But he wasn’t quite expecting what happened one day in the early summer.

“I was teaching classes one day and this giant man came walking in,” Webster said. “To be honest, I wasn’t a hockey guy and I didn’t really know who he was. He said he played for the Sabres. He wanted to get some training in.”

The giant man was Buffalo Sabres goaltender Robin Lehner.

*Mike Harrington's column about parched Buffalo fans thirsting for a playoff game -- If the Sabres are serious about winning this year, the eight October games have to be an early defining stretch. That's because this team has specialized in slow starts in recent years and has been constantly chasing the season.

Over the last three years, Buffalo's October record is a hideous 8-27-2. Since 2010, it's 17-38-4. And none of that includes the 3-6-1 start to the 2013 lockout season, which opened on Jan. 20.

"That's a trap of a young team. You want to get your bearings but you need to be ready to go in our case right from Oct. 13," right wing Kyle Okposo said. "Points in October count the same. We went through that on the Island with starts that weren't great and cost us later. We benefited a couple years from fast starts because we all know you'll have lulls but it's much better to not have that lull right at the beginning."

*The Sabres' arena turns 20 years old -- In two decades of NHL hockey, there's been triumph that's led the Sabres as close as two wins from a Stanley Cup. There's been crushing disappointment, a near-tragedy, a falling scoreboard and a place for the community to gather in times of trouble. Here's a look back at some of the big moments from the arena's 20 years.

*Sabres must meet their back-to-back challenge -- Dan Bylsma embraces back-to-back games. The Sabres coach expects his team to be well-conditioned and able to maintain a fast pace, so playing two days in a row should be no sweat.

There is one exception to his philosophy.

“Hopefully,” Bylsma said, “it’s not the one when you’re on the road and you’re coming back to play your second in two nights and they’re sitting there in your town and your restaurants and resting.”

Bylsma has good reason to dislike those situations. He also has good reason to dislike Buffalo’s schedule. The Sabres will be the tired team more than the rested team – by a lot.

*The Rochester Americans have a new approach with a new coach -- The opportunities in Rochester should have a slightly different feel this season with a new coach (Dan Lambert) and a new roster. Last year, the Amerks carried seven to eight veterans. League rules limit a team to playing five skaters with veteran status in a game. That meant a different lineup every night and created difficulty in finding chemistry and cohesion on the ice.

It added up to a sub-par year as the Amerks went 34-38 with three overtime losses and one shootout loss, finishing out of the playoffs for the second straight season. Lambert’s new job is to find the balance between developing players and winning games. The two goals, he believes, are mutually beneficial.

*Sabres prospect photo gallery -- A look at the pipeline with info on where the young players will be this year.

*Mike Harrington's Power Rankings -- Defending champion Pittsburgh starts the year at No. 1. Where do the Sabres land?

*Division story lines -- Who can the Sabres pass? Will the Capitals ever go the distance? Can anyone jump the Sharks?

*Stick Taps -- From the sites to see and the dates to know, to the possible MVPs and bye-week destinations, and to the rookies to watch and players to follow, it's covered here.


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