Sabres-Panthers Preview

By JORDAN GARRETSON STATS Writer

Buffalo (18-35-8) at Florida (23-32-7), 7:30 p.m. EDT

The Buffalo Sabres and Florida Panthers - two of the NHL’s worst teams - were also two of the league’s most active clubs at this year’s trade deadline as they attempted to construct foundations for rebuilding.

Though both franchises have long roads ahead of them, Buffalo’s recent stretch of play is providing at least a little encouragement.

The Sabres seek their fifth win in six games Friday night when they visit the Florida Panthers, who are expected to have Roberto Luongo in net.

Buffalo (19-35-8) is last in the league, with Florida (23-32-7) only seven points ahead. Sabres general manager Tim Murray had a busy week, completing three trades involving 10 players and four draft picks while also claiming left wing Cory Conacher off waivers.

The barrage of deals started last Friday when Murray sent goaltender Ryan Miller and captain Steve Ott to St. Louis in exchange for Jaroslav Halak, Chris Stewart, William Carrier and two draft picks. Halak was dealt to Washington on Wednesday along with a 2015 third-round pick in exchange for fellow goalie Michal Neuvirth and defenseman Rostislav Klesla.

“The start of the building for me was on Friday,” said Murray, who was hired as general manager in January, then took over for Pat LaFontaine as the team’s director of hockey operations after he resigned Saturday. ” … There’s still a lot of building to do.”

Buffalo has won four of five following Thursday’s 3-1 victory at Tampa Bay. Tyler Myers had a goal and an assist and has six points during the club’s recent surge. Meanwhile, Jhonas Enroth’s 43-save performance helped the Sabres overcome a 44-21 disadvantage in shots.

“When we get good goaltending, we have a chance to win,” interim coach Ted Nolan said. “We were very opportunistic on our chances. Jhonas was the backbone, for sure.”

The Sabres didn’t emerge entirely unscathed, however, with Nolan classifying Stewart as “very doubtful” for Friday’s contest after leaving with an unspecified injury.

Florida has dropped five of six during a hectic week of transactions. The Panthers traded goaltender Tim Thomas to Dallas on Wednesday in exchange for Dan Ellis, a day after reaching a deal to bring Luongo back to the franchise.

Thomas eventually agreed to waive his no-trade clause after a conversation with general manager Dale Tallon, while Luongo was thought by most to be virtually “untradeable,” considering his $64 million contract doesn’t expire until after the 2021-22 season.

Luongo, who posted a 2.68 goals-against average and went 108-154-9 with 32 saves over 317 games for Florida from 2000-06, is likely to be in goal Friday.

“This is the beginning of something special for this Florida Panthers organization, having Roberto back in the fold here in Florida where he belongs,” Tallon said.

Thomas’ defense let him down Tuesday when he made 35 saves in Tuesday’s 4-1 loss at Boston. Florida’s only goal came from Brian Campbell with 7:13 left, and the club is allowing an average of 35.2 shots on goal during its 1-5-0 stretch.

The Panthers won two of three meetings earlier in the season, most recently a 4-3 victory in Buffalo on Jan. 21. Drew Stafford had two goals and a season-high three points for the Sabres while Thomas stopped 32 shots.


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Updated Friday, Mar 7, 2014