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by Kevin Sylvester / Buffalo Sabres
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Many fans are asking me what I think the Sabres will do this year?  My answer has been consistent. 

If the goaltending lives up to its potential, then they’ll make the playoffs. 

I say goaltending because it’s not all on Ryan Miller’s shoulders. Sure he’s the key player for the franchise and one of the top goalies in the Eastern Conference, but he and the team need Patrick Lalime to stand tall this year.

Monday night’s win in Washington was a great sign for the season. Lalime went the distance in the 2-1 victory over the Capitals turning aside 19 of 20 shots. 

Before you say it was a just a preseason game, look at Washington’s lineup. Alexander Ovechkin made his preseason debut and recorded five shots on net.  Nicklas Backstrom was also on the ice with Mike Green, Alexander Semin and Mike Knuble. 

That’s not exactly a list of rookies and journeymen trying to make the fourth line. Lindy Ruff is going to need efforts like last night’s out of Lalime this season, and more often.

The schedule is condensed due to the Olympics, and Ryan Miller will be headed to Vancouver for Team USA. It’s not just after the Olympics for Lalime.  He should see action early in the season too. 

The end of October starts a five-week stretch that has three games in four nights each of those weekends for the Sabres.  Novembers ends with four games in six nights.

December’s schedule is downright ridiculous (every team has to deal with it) with 15 games in 27 nights. Breaking the month down further, there are 12 games in the first 21 days of December before two days off for Christmas. 

After the New Year, the Sabres have eight sets of three games in four nights.  Game three is usually a dog and coaches have little time for a good practice to work on system breakdowns. That’s why goaltending will be the key (when isn’t it), and Lalime will have to be on his game more often. 

My guess is 20 games this year, and let’s hope many resemble last night’s win in Washington.
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