By: David Kolb
MONTREAL CANADIENS (0-0-0) @ BUFFALO SABRES (0-0-0)
Tonight, the Sabres start their the 2016-17 season against the divisional rivals Montreal Canadiens for the first of four games between the clubs this season.
SABRES KEYS FOR SUCCESS
The Sabres will be without Jack Eichel for the next four-to-six weeks after the prized center suffered a high ankle sprain in practice Wednesday. Free agent signee Kyle Okposo (bruised knee) will also miss the opener, while center Ryan O’Reilly (back) is questionable. The Sabres’ injuries mean that scoring burden will fall on Sam Reinhart and Evander Kane, who will need to produce in the opener.
Rasmus Ristolainen is entering his fourth NHL season and could begin to get noticed around the NHL as an elite defender with another solid campaign this year. Ristolainen recorded nine goals and 32 assists for 41 points last season, finishing fourth among all Buffalo skaters in points.
KEYS TO STOPPING THE CANADIENS
The Sabres have caught a break with all-world Canadiens goalie Carey Price sidelined with the flu. With backup Al Montoya starting, the Sabres should get as many pucks to the net as possible to test Montreal’s backup.
Gone are the days where teams have to keep an eye on P.K. Subban after he was traded to Nashville for Shea Weber. Weber is a fantastic physical defender and can fire the puck, but he isn’t as creative as Subban was for the Habs. Weber does have one of the hardest shots in the NHL and was deadly with the man advantage last season (14 goals on the power play). Sabres sticks and bodies will need to be in his shooting lane.
Sabres winger Evander Kane is coming off an injury-riddled 2015-16 campaign, but he still tallied 20 goals and 15 assists in 65 games. Tonight, he figures to play big minutes with the Sabres’ injuries and will be called upon to pick up the scoring slack for Buffalo with the Sabres’ big guns sidelined.