Change has come swiftly and consistently throughout the Buffalo Sabres' organization, but Lindy Ruff hasn't bought into the sweeping remakes entirely. Sure, the coach has tweaked his system and special teams plans a bit. The backbone of his game plan, however, remains the same.
Defensemen have to be aggressive.
The Sabres have thrived in recent years when they abandon conservatism. They like defensemen joining the rush, creating a four-man attack that puts opponents on their heels. Despite a hefty roster makeover on the back end, the green light remains on any time a blueliner has the puck.
"To have that green light, it's nice," Tyler Myers said. "All the D-men have it. Obviously, you want to play defense first, but if we're on a rush bringing that fourth man in, that defenseman, it's part of our game."
The Sabres' attack should intensify even more this year. Christian Ehrhoff, Marc-Andre Gragnani and Robyn Regehr have replaced Craig Rivet, Shaone Morrisonn and Steve Montador, increasing the speed along the blue line, especially in the case of Ehrhoff.
The former Vancouver defenseman is in the smooth-skating, puck-moving mold Ruff adores, and Ehrhoff proved during the preseason he has a shot from the point that is second to none.
"We want to use Ehrhoff to his strengths," Ruff said. "A big part of our success was having our D involved."
The back end should be improved this season, but the team will need more to get past the first round of the playoffs, something it hasn't done since 2007.
"We need everybody to be a little bit better," Ruff said, "Push each other to be a little better through the year."
The Sabres' depth up front is as good as it's been since the back-to-back Eastern Conference finals teams of the mid-2000s. The top three lines have proven scorers, while the checking line has the requisite toughness.
Perennial goal-scoring leader Thomas Vanek is back on a line with right wing Jason Pominville, who has scored at least 20 times for five straight seasons. Center Derek Roy is healthy after missing the second half of last season, and he's eager to prove his point-per-game start is going to be the norm.
Right wing Drew Stafford came into camp as a physical specimen, and the hope is his improved fitness level will keep him healthy. He played just 62 games last season but finally lived up to his first-round hype with 31 goals, second only to Vanek's 32.
Left wings Tyler Ennis and Nathan Gerbe added experience to their skill sets, enhancing their reputations as playmakers and snipers, respectively. Ennis now has company in the puckhandling department with the arrival of Ville Leino. The former Detroit and Philadelphia winger returns to his natural position of center, and he showed during the exhibitions he can create plays with his puck possession.
Paul Gaustad, Cody McCormick and Patrick Kaleta have the task of making life difficult for the other teams and relish the role.
Myers' flash will be complemented by Regehr's substance. The 11-year veteran inspires fear whenever the puck heads to the corner, and his defense-first mind-set should mesh well with Myers' high-paced approach.
"He's so solid defensively that with the way I like to jump up into the play, he's a guy that can back me up," Myers said.
Ehrhoff will start alongside Jordan Leopold, who had a career year of 13 goals and 35 points during his first season in Buffalo. Both players have an all-around game, but the only concern is ensuring that the vaunted four-man attack doesn't become a five-man jail break.
Mike Weber provides grit and a crease-clearing presence, while Andrej Sekera and Gragnani have offensive skill. Playing time will be limited for one.
"There's seven players that can all play and are obviously utilized in different situations," Ruff said. "We've got some guys on the physical side. We've got some guys that are on the offensive side of it. But I know one thing for sure: You're going to use all seven. It never fails where a D goes down.
"It's not easy to have the number we have, but I think to have seven is a good thing."
Ryan Miller feels he's back to the form that earned him the Vezina Trophy and Olympic stardom two seasons ago. He struggled at times last year, which can be attributed to injuries (knee, hip, head) and a faulty approach.
He admittedly hid from hockey too much following the 2009-10 season, and his offseason routine didn't set him up for a repeat performance. His summer was mapped out better this year, so he's eager to return to elite status.
Miller may finally get more rest, something that has been promised but never delivered, now that Jhonas Enroth is the full-time backup. The rookie went 9-2-2 as an injury replacement last season, including a 6-0-1 run during the final month.
One of Miller's goals early is getting acclimated to his new defense corps. It's the second straight season of significant change, and communication problems hindered performances early last year.
"We got ourselves in a situation where we felt like we wanted to play just like we did the year before, but we didn't have the same personnel, so it took a little while to get everybody on board," Miller said. "I think once we got everyone going, I think we were one of the better teams system-wise, so the job this year is to do it earlier."