Phase-1: Win one game.
The Buffalo Sabres accomplished that in their second game of the season after dropping their season opener 4-0 at home.
Phase-2: Get above .500
The Sabres hadn't been over the .500 mark since January 2013 when Lindy Ruff was the head coach and Darcy Regier their GM. After 2083 days, 458 games, three GM's five coaches, two tank seasons and a partridge caught under an overturned nacho table, Buffalo was finally able to accomplish that feat with a matinee win over the visiting Vegas Golden Knights. They're now 2-1.
Phase-3: Go for three in a row.
Last season the Sabres never won more than three games in a row and they did so only once. Buffalo was on a western Canada road trip from January 22-25 and proceeded to defeat the Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks, the latter two teams by a combined 9-0 score with Robin Lehner pitching back-to-back shutouts.
Buffalo heads into tonight's matchup with a very talented Colorado Avalanche team looking for the three-game winning streak but also looking to continued success at home. Three wins at home is over 25% more than the 11 home wins they had last season adding up to an incredibly inept 11-25-5 record and enough boos to last well into the next decade.
This edition of the Sabres looks like a different team with an up-tempo style, good defense and very, very good goaltending. Head coach Phil Housley has four lines he can roll and defensemen who can get the puck to the forwards. And, finally after years of hearing about five-men-as-a-unit defensive responsibilities, they've actually looked like they're taking it to heart.
With two wins in a row, Housley is changing very little. The top-six and the fourth line are the same with the "big" change coming at left wing on the second line. Forward Johan Larsson, who'd been out with an injury, will make his season debut as Casey Mittelstadt's left wing on the third line. Here's the probable line combos for tonight:
Conor Sheary - Jack Eichel - Sam Reinhart
Jeff Skinner - Patrik Berglund - Kyle Okposo
Johan Larsson - Casey Mittelstadt - Tage Thompson
Zemgus Girgensons - Evan Rodrigues - Jason Pominville
Housley's blueline looks to be the same as well:
Marco Scandella-Rasmus Ristolainen
Jake McCabe-Rasmus Dahlin
Nathan Beaulieu-Casey Nelson
And, the coach will be going with the hot hand in net as Carter Hutton and his 2.06 goals-against average and .943 save percentage will be manning the crease again.
Mittelstadt's left wing has been a bit of a revolving door as he's had Vladimir Sobotka, Zemgus Girgensons and, now Larsson over there. All three players can carry a heavy defensive load for that line as well as take defensive draws. Although Mittelstadt has yet to score a goal this season, Housley told the gathered media he likes what he sees from the rookie in the defensive zone.
"He's been terrific," said Housley of Mittelstadt's defensive play. "He's coming back, watching his shifts with the coaches. He's really worked on that part of his game. He's made some steps in that area, coming back and supporting down low in the defensive zone. His reads are really good."
Colorado also has a 2-1 record.
From Housley and team captain Jack Eichel on down, a quick start to the season was said to be an essential component to success. Tonight represents a good opportunity for the Sabres to get on a roll before they head out for a season-long five-game road trip out west.
Win this one and we can go on to Phase-4.