4 Storylines to watch: Sabres 2019-2020 season

Sports

Buffalo Sabres forward Jack Eichel (9) celebrates his goal during the third period of the team’s NHL hockey game against the Ottawa Senators on Thursday, April 4, 2019, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – A new coach and some new faces mixed in with some familiar ones.

What’s in store for the Sabres this season? Here are four storylines to watch.

  • Compete

It’s real simple for the Blue & Gold heading into their 50th anniversary season: Just be better and show signs of progress.

With all the offseason additions the on-ice product should improve. But, are the Sabres ready to be playoff contenders?

90 points seems to be the bench mark for a postseason bound team — a place the Blue & Gold haven’t skated since their last playoff appearance during the 2010-2011 season.

Since the “rebuild” began, the Sabres have only reached 80 points twice – in 2011-2012 (89) and in 2015-2016 (81).

Provided the guys on the ice play as a unit, follow the game plan and believe in the message coming from Krueger and his assistants, the scoreboard will take care of itself and the wins will come.

But, above all else, here’s one thing that should never happen: They Sabres shouldn’t be boo’d off the ice this year.

  • Keep the emotions in check

Throughout last season the Sabres admitted they didn’t handle success or adversity all too well.

The good times were good — but they were few and far between.

Too many times the Sabres would let one mistake become two and then three…and it would snowball into absolute disaster.  That’s a major reason why the Sabres went nearly four months without winning back-to-back games.

If the Sabres are able to manage the highs and lows of the season – build on their success and not dwell on the setbacks – things should trend in the right direction.

  • How long does Rasmus Ristolainen stick around?

This story isn’t going to go away anytime soon, and the calls – both literally to general manager Jason Botterill and by fans — are going to continue and get louder as the season moves along.

Since returning for training camp, Ristolainen has said and done all the right things.

However, his comments dating all the way back to locker cleanout and to MTVSports in his native Finland continue to echo in the hockey world.

Every organization likes to have a depth. Make no mistake: the Blue & Gold have an excess of right hand defenseman. 

Once the guys start to get healthy it’ll be interesting to see how that impacts Ristolainen’s future and the position group as a whole.

  • The curious case of Casey Mittelstadt

Following the preseason finale, head coach Ralph Krueger had some very interesting comments about the second year centerman.

Mittelstadt had his struggles in training camp but continued to show signs of growth throughout the preseason, especially in the finale when he scored the shootout winner against Pittsburgh.

“Casey has been moving in the right direction here,” Krueger said following the 3-2 shootout win on Sept. 28.  “I think he’s understanding what he needs to do defensively to play center at this level. Offensively his confidence seems to be growing and we’ll see where it takes us now in our decisions”

Krueger was asked a follow up question on Mittelstadt and whether he believed with all he chances the young center had, if he’d have more success once he settles in to the regular season.

“We’re going to take a look at everybody in camp the next couple of days,” Krueger said following the preseason finale.  “Jason and I will dive deep and then we’ll see what we come up with Tuesday evening of a starting roster. But, Casey has made a strong case for himself and is an exciting part of the future of the franchise.  We know that. He’s learned a lot in just these two weeks that show us the future is very bright for him.”

Neither of those quotes are ringing endorsements for Mittelstadt who struggled mightily in his first pro season recording a lowly 25 points (12 goals, 13 assists).

With Marcus Johansson getting an extended tryout at center the last week of the preseason and now slated to start the year as the 2C, that bumps Mittelstadt to the team’s third line center – which is fine for now.

However, if Mittelstadt continues struggle, it wouldn’t be a total surprise to see the 20-year-old log meaningful minutes in the Amerks and continue his development.

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