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Hamilton Take2: What to watch for as Sabres start new season

WGRZ Sabres/NHL Insider Paul Hamilton shares his thoughts on the main storylines as the Sabres open the season Thursday night at home against Montreal.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The preseason flew by and the regular season is here as the Sabres host the Montreal Canadiens.

What are the five things that I’m going to be looking at?

Goaltending

Craig Anderson and Dustin Tokarski definitely earned the job in preseason. In two games Anderson built a 1.80 goals against and .923 save percentage while in three games, Tokarski had a 1.46 goals against and .951 save percentage. If this team is going to get better they MUST get the big save at the big time. The also have to get the routine save. Too many times in the past 10 seasons goals have gone in that should’ve been stopped and it’s turned games for the worse.

Rasmus Dahlin

He no longer has Rasmus Ristolainen and Jake McCabe to lean on. He is the No. 1 guy and he is going to take on those extra minutes. His preseason was up and down, and Don Granato said that when it went wrong, it was because he was complicating easy plays.

Dahlin improved last season under Granato and Dan Girardi. That’s the player that needs to show up.

Where is the scoring going to come from?

The Sabres' win over the Detroit Red Wings was a perfect example of what we may see this season. Buffalo was halfway through the game outshooting the Wings 26-8, and the score was 1-1. They did get that game into the garage, but if they’re going to get better, they can’t let teams that they’re dominating hang around.

Goals are going to have to come from unexpected sources like Tage Thompson, Anders Bjork or Vinnie Hinostroza. I also think when Arttu Ruotsalainen gets the chance to play, he’ll start scoring goals. He played 17 games in his rookie year and scored five goals.  

Make no mistake, yes, JJ Peterka had three goals in five preseason games playing against NHL and AHL players. The 19-year-old will eventually play in Buffalo this season, but there are too many parts of his game that aren’t NHL ready, and he’s going to play in all situations in Rochester.

I applaud the team for not rushing him into a spot he’s not ready for just to satisfy the fans. Victor Olofsson has spoken many times about his AHL experience and how it helped him be a better NHL player. Casey Mittelstadt feels going to Rochester saved his career.  

Is Don Granato the real deal?

I think he absolutely is. His practices are tough, but they’re full of purpose. Just watching the players, they’re not complaining, they’re thriving with the work they’re getting on the ice. Granato wants nothing to do with boring, defensive hockey. He says losing teams win 65 to 70% of their games when they score first and lead after the first period, so why would you sit back in a defensive shell?

Granato isn’t afraid to try things and it helps give him information on what his players can and can’t do. That prepares him in critical situations of a game.  

Can the Sabres take advantage of a pretty easy start to the season?

Buffalo starts with games against Montreal, the Arizona Coyotes, the Vancouver Canucks, the Boston Bruins, the New Jersey Devils, the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Anaheim Ducks, the Los Angeles Kings, the San Jose Sharks, the Seattle Kraken and the Detroit Red Wings.

These players believe with all their hearts that they aren’t a bad team. There’s 22 points on the line in those games. What would 14 to 16 points look like here? Is that even possible?

It’s early and we’ll see what teams are better and what teams aren’t. The one thing I do know is its hockey season. What could be better?

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