PITTSBURGH - When Ralph Krueger was hired by the Buffalo Sabres in May as the 19th head coach in franchise history, he immediately began to lay out a plan for the organization and how he'd like to see the team play.
The fruits of that labor will begin to pay off when the Sabres open the 2019-20 season tonight against the Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG Paints Arena.
Video: What makes Buffalo a special hockey town?
"It's funny, because of the intensity of the process, I've really been able to keep the picture small and working to the day," Krueger said Thursday after the team's morning skate. "We have a clear plan here that we've been pursuing and we continue to pursue.
"Spending May, June, July, August, really preparing and solidifying the plan has helped a lot to be in the moment now and to keep the picture small, we were very confident in the plan that we're implementing here. The players have bought into it."
It will be Krueger's first time behind the bench in an NHL regular season game since the end of the 2012-13 season when he was with Edmonton. In the interim, he won a gold medal as a consultant for Team Canada in the Winter Olympic Games, coached Team Europe to a second-place finish at the World Cup of Hockey and served as the chairman of an English Premier League team.
He's learned from each of those experiences along the way and it's already helped him build strong relationships with the players and staff.
"I think he does a really good job of getting the guys to want to play for him. He's a really good communicator," Sabres captain Jack Eichel said. "He's very positive around the rink. He's built a really good environment for the players. It's been a really good start so far."
Now, Krueger is ready to lead the Sabres as they begin their 50th season.
"It seems like yesterday that I began. It's hard to believe it's been five months now into the role, but it feels natural," he said. "I feel at home and I'm excited to be a part of another National Hockey League season as a head coach."
The Buick Game Night pregame show on MSG begins at 6:30 p.m. Rick Jeanneret and Rob Ray will have the call starting at 7 on MSG and WGR 550.
Tonight's projected lineup
68 Victor Olofsson - 9 Jack Eichel - 23 Sam Reinhart
53 Jeff Skinner - 90 Marcus Johansson - 17 Vladimir Sobotka
13 Jimmy Vesey - 37 Casey Mittelstadt - 43 Conor Sheary
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 22 Johan Larsson - 21 Kyle Okposo
19 Jake McCabe - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
26 Rasmus Dahlin - 33 Colin Miller
6 Marco Scandella - 10 Henri Jokiharju
40 Carter Hutton
35 Linus Ullmark
Scratches: 58 John Gilmour, 71 Evan Rodrigues
Video: PREGAME: Krueger
"It's always the mix in the end," Krueger said of the decision to scratch Rodrigues. "And the competition here, as I've told you all through training camp, has increased; our depth has increased.
"When you see that level of scratch, you can see it's not just words, it's actions here. It's a competitive situation here. In the end, it was the mix that took him out of it. He's working hard and will continue to be a part. We'll need everybody here through this long season."
Carter Hutton will start between the pipes.
Scouting the Penguins
Here's how Pittsburgh will line up tonight:
"They're a very high-skilled team," defenseman Colin Miller, who will make his Sabres debut, said. "They've accomplished a lot over there. I think we just need to make sure we're keeping those top guys in check. When they get that run-and-gun game going, they're pretty good at that so we don't want to trade chances with them."
Finally, more from The Instigators
Maddy Glab checked in with Andrew Peters and Craig Rivet to see what they're looking forward to this season:
Video: Instigators 2019-20 Season Preview