Lindy Ruff needs to rest Ryan Miller wisely.
The Buffalo Sabres 2013 schedule has them playing 48 games in a mere 97 days. They can thank that monumental waste of time over the last five months for that. So what are some of the necessary steps for them to take to effectively get through such a heavy workload?
Something that should give them an edge right off the bat is that Lindy Ruff has always been a coach to roll four lines.
His top defensive pair also rarely play more than 24 minutes a game. Ruff trusts his players, many of them in a multitude of situations.
However, what he's also "notorious" for is overplaying his goaltender. Whether it's been Dominik Hasek or Ryan Miller, too often, the Sabres have had tired and worn-out netminders come April.
What Ruff needs to do is utilize one of the best backups in the league in Jhonas Enroth.
Buffalo has nine sets of back-to-back games in this abbreviated campaign. Ideally, Enroth should get eight to 10 starts throughout the season to keep Miller fresh for playoff time.
Gone are the days of Patrick Lalime, when backup goaltender was a huge liability for this team. The young Swede has shown he can win games in this league, so his coach needs to trust him.
Keep in mind, though, this entire plan is predicated on the Sabres having secured a playoff spot before the last couple weeks of the season.
If that spot is in doubt or up for grabs, Miller will be starting every night—and rightly so. If this ends up being Ruff's last hurrah as coach, he's certainly going to go down riding his supposed franchise goalie.
The reality of this schedule is that the Sabres don't have three consecutive days off until March 13-15. Only twice all year will they enjoy that.
Plus, all of the matchups are interconference, which makes the impact of each contest that much more important to the playoff picture.
A benefit of being in the East is less travel.
The Sabres visit Florida twice and Winnipeg once. There are no long, six- or seven-game road trips they have to face (four being the longest).
With that said, the biggest key regarding the schedule in 2013 is how they play on home ice.
Will the Sabres win 16 or more of their 24 home games?
The last two years, including overtime losses, Buffalo is 42-40 at home. That's not going to cut it for a head coach and general manager who are going to be on the hot-seat early if this team struggles.
The Sabres close out with eight of their final 12 games at home.
If April begins without a playoff spot locked up, the Lindy Ruff/Darcy Regier era may end in an ugly fashion if they don't succeed in front of the First Niagara Center faithful.
Whether you think they should have been fired years ago or not, they don't deserve to go out like that. And all Buffalo fans should hope they don't.
That's because the playing field is as even as its ever been in today's NHL.
We watched an eighth seed and the second-lowest scoring team in the league last year win a Stanley Cup. Jonathan Quick was masterful in leading L.A. to an unlikely championship.
Who's to say Miller isn't next?
One thing is for sure about this compacted 2013 season. It should determine the long-term vision and direction of this franchise under new owner Terry Pegula.
Is it time for puck drop yet?