With Connolly set to return after a 13-game absence, the Sabres look to continue a February resurgence when they conclude their season series with the Florida Panthers on Sunday night.
Buffalo (25-21-8) has been criticized for breaking up what had been a Stanley Cup-contending lineup over the past two years, losing captains Chris Drury and Daniel Briere to free agency last summer. Indeed, the Sabres, who are three points behind eighth-place Boston in the Eastern Conference, are struggling to become a factor in the playoff race.
After bottoming out by going 1-7-5 in a stretch last month that dropped it into 13th place in the standings, Buffalo has been able to bounce back with a 5-0-2 run. The Sabres have earned at least one point in all four of their games in February, going 2-0-2.
“Look how competitive we’ve been these last three weeks,” Golisano said. “How can you argue with the results? I’m sure they’d like to block out that 10-game (winless) streak and have a chance to do it over again, but that’s not reality. So on we go.”
Golisano contends his team’s injury problems have contributed to its losing 13 games by one goal, including eight shootout losses. Connolly, a playmaking center, will be on the ice Sunday after missing a month with a hip injury.
Diagnosed with bone spurs in his hip, Connolly will have to play with pain and will eventually require surgery. He has been in and out of the lineup all season, and has five goals in 29 points in 34 games.
Connolly has come off injured reserve, but winger Maxim Afinogenov (groin) and defenseman Teppo Numminen (heart surgery) remain there. Drew Stafford, who is out indefinitely after spraining his right ankle in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Bruins on Friday night, may soon join that list.
Stafford, who has 13 goals and a career-high 28 points, will likely miss a few weeks.
Buffalo will need all the offense it can get against a Florida team which has been finding the back of the net regularly in recent games. The Panthers, normally conservative on offense, have scored 24 goals en route to a 4-0-1 record in February.
“I think some people are finding the net, but also I think moving the puck out of our zone has helped,” Panthers coach Jacques Martin said. “I think we have done a better job of going to the net.”
It was the second time in four days the Panthers have scored six goals or more. They scored a season-high eight goals in a shutout win over Toronto on Tuesday night.
Zednik has been red-hot during Florida’s surge, compiling six goals and nine points in his last four games. The veteran had two goals in the Panthers’ only win over the Sabres this season, a 4-2 victory Nov. 2 at Buffalo.
Buffalo won its other two matchups with Florida, and is 6-2-0 in its last eight games versus the Panthers.