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January 9, 2013 | 7:13pm ET
Season Preview: Buffalo
By Shawn Hutcheon, TheFourthPeriod.com

The Buffalo Sabres finished last season with a 39-32-11 record and were just three points behind the Ottawa Senators in the Northeast Division. That was a disappointment to Sabres fans, but a bigger disappointment was the fact that the three points separating Buffalo and Ottawa in the division also meant that the Senators, eighth in the Eastern Conference, made a trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, while the Sabres, ninth in the conference, went home early for the summer.

As a result, the organization decided it was time to add toughness to the lineup and did so once the off-season began by sending popular center Derek Roy to the Dallas Stars for defenseman Adam Pardy and forward Steve Ott. Ott, of course, is widely known as an agitator who never backs down when challenged to drop the gloves and is always eager to do so.

Buffalo selected Russian born center Mikhail Grigorenko from the Quebec Remparts with the 11th overall pick in last summer's draft.

Forwards

While Ott and Porter are expected to put modest amounts of points on the scoreboard, the Sabres are expecting another big season from last year's leading scorer, Jason Pominville who scored 30 goals and 43 assists totaling 70 points. Thomas Vanek was second in team scoring, but his numbers (61 points) took a dive from the previous season. Drew Stafford's 50 points were third best on the team. Other forwards such as Tyler Ennis (34 points), Nathan Gerbe and Ville Leino (25 points each) will need to improve on last year's offensive performances if the Sabres are to make the playoffs this season.

Defense

Back on defense, Buffalo has a solid group of veterans. Christian Ehrhoff was the leading scorer among the club's blueliners with 32 points. Jordan Leopold and Robyn Regehr head a strong corps that has the right blend of veteran leadership and youth. Young defensemen such as Tyler Myers, Andrej Sekera and Mike Weber have shown improvement each season of their respective careers and will be counted on to play big roles in the team's quest for a playoff position.

Goalies

Goaltending is the strength of the Sabres. Ryan Miller is one of the Top 5 netminders in the NHL. Last year, Miller rebounded from an early-season concussion to win 31 contests, however he was also on the losing end of 21 games, which were more of an indictment on the team's lack of goal-scoring than his ability to stop pucks. Entering his 10th NHL season, all with Buffalo, Miller will be hoping for some help from the offense, which will allow him to add wins to his, and the club's stats. Backup Jhonas Enroth is entering his third season in the league. He has spent each year of his career with the Sabres and has seen action in 41 games. Enroth carried the load last season in Miller's absence and finished the year with a record of 8-11-0-4.

Projected Outcome

The Sabres have the pieces in place to be a perennial playoff contender. Keep an eye on Miller, Pominville and Vanek. They will need to have big seasons respectively in order for Coach Lindy Ruff's squad to get into postseason action, which will finish third again in the division this year.

3 Players to Watch
 
Ryan Miller
Do what you do best. That's Buffalo's simple message for Ryan Miller. End of story.
Jason Pominville
Another All-Star performance could be just what the doctor ordered for the Buffalo Sabres. They came close last season, and without Derek Roy, Pominville will be needed even more to play like he did last year.
Thomas Vanek
The better Vanek performs, the better the Sabres' odds are of making the playoffs this season. He's their big star up front, and while he's being paid like one, he hasn't shown it in the last couple of years. In order to get over the hump, the Sabres need Vanek, not Ville Leino, to shine.

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