Friday marks the beginning of a new season for the Buffalo Sabres when they face off against the Montreal Canadiens at 7:30pm at the HSBC Arena in Buffalo. The two divisional rivals kick off the 2008-2009 season with a lot of questions open for discussion for both squads after disappointing finishes last year.
The Sabres are attempting to rebound from a season that found them missing the playoffs for the first time since the lockout.
Ryan Miller has been signed to a long term contract for the Sabres and is under pressure to rebound from a season that found him playing 76 games and struggling at times especially in the shootout. Miller will have some help between the pipes this year with the arrival of his new backup goaltender Patrick Lalime, coming off of a solid season with the Chicago Blackhawks and ready to take some of the load.
New addition Craig Rivet has assumed the position of every day captain from Lindy Ruff after being acquired from the San Jose Sharks in the offseason. Rivet brings some much need grit and leadership to the blue line and will head up a rotating group of alternate captains that include Jason Pominville, Teppo Numminen, Jaro Spacek and Jochen Hecht.
Jason Pominville and Derek Roy are both expected to continue with their development as scorers and two way players as key components in the Sabres powerplay and penalty killing squads. A solid performance by Max Afinogenov in the preseason has some people buzzing about a rebound year. Newly healthy Tim Connolly and Drew Stafford need to bounce back from last year's injury plagued season to make solid contributions.
The Montreal Canadiens come into this season following a tough series loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in the Conference Semifinals after leading the Eastern Conference in points.
Carey Price has the weight of the entire fan base of the Canadiens on his back after taking over the full time starting position at goalie late last season. The Habs need Price to take the next step in his development and become a workhorse to lead the team to the promised land that is expected from them every single season.
Saku Koivu returns as the captain of a group that adds forward Alex Tanguay and center Robert Lang to an already dangerous mix of grit, scoring touch and speed. Another young goaltender, Jaroslav Halak, has been tabbed to backup Price. Montreal is depending on a repeat of last years resurgent performance by Alexei Kovalev and his 35 goals as well as the continued development of young scorers Andrei Kostitsyn and alternate captain Chris Higgins.