SABRES (9-15-2) AT PANTHERS (10-7-7)
TV: MSG-B, BELL TV, FS-F
SUNRISE, Fla. — Center Dave Bolland, one of the Florida Panthers’ most significant free-agent acquisitions of the summer, could make his return to the lineup Saturday night against the Buffalo Sabres.
Coach Gerard Gallant said Bolland, who hasn’t played since Oct. 17 because of a lower-body injury, was a game-time decision for the matchup at BB&T???Center.
“He’s played [four] games for us this year and that’s not enough,”???Gallant said. “We want him healthy and playing the way he can play. It might take a little while because he’s missed so much time, but he’s a character guy that’s a leader and competitor and he’s a bit of a dirty player, too. You like that.”
Bolland, who took part in the optional skate Saturday morning, didn’t record a point in his first four games.
Roberto Luongo again will be in net for the Panthers, but Gallant said it wasn’t because Luongo recorded shutouts in each of his past three games against the Sabres.
His last came when he made 26 saves in a 1-0 Florida victory Oct. 17 at Buffalo. Luongo also shut out Buffalo in his first game back with the Panthers on March 7 (25 saves in a 2-0 victory) and Oct. 17, 2013, the last time he faced the Sabres as a member of the Vancouver Canucks (25 saves in a 3-0 victory).
That Oct. 17 loss came amid a 3-13-2 start for the Sabres, who have won six of their past eight.
Even though Buffalo is coming off a 5-0 loss against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday during which they were outshot 35-13, the Panthers are expecting to see a much different Sabres team than the one they saw in mid-October.
“These guys have been hot lately,”???said Panthers center Nick Bjugstad, who had two goals and an assist in a 4-3 shootout loss against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday. “They’ve won quite a few games. They’re below us in the standings, but we’ve got to somehow find a way at home. That’s an advantage for us. We’ve got to win at home, get our fans into it. These are ones we’ve got to have.”
Florida, which goes on a three-game road trip after facing the Sabres, lost Thursday despite outshooting Columbus 42-7 after the first minute of the second period.
“If we play like we did the last two periods, things are looking good for us,”???Bjugstad said. “I???think we’re definitely going to stress in the locker room before the game to come out ready and prepared. We didn’t do that last game. I???think if we do that and play like we did the last two periods — a lot of chances, a lot of opportunities — we have good chances of winning if we put oursleves in that position.”
Buffalo, which did not hold a morning skate Saturday, will go with Michal Neuvirth in net. He will be making his first start since leaving a game against the San Jose Sharks on Nov. 18 in the first period because of an injury.
Neuvirth’s last complete game came in a 6-2 victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Nov. 15 when he made 32 saves.
Jhonas Enroth started the past six games for the Sabres.
“It’s one thing when a guy’s going really well and you’ve got to go with him, but then there comes a point where you don’t want to overplay him and then all of a sudden, the other one can get rusty on you, too,”???Sabres coach Ted Nolan said Friday. “There’s a balancing act. Hopefully Michal is ready to go and give Jhonas a well-deserved rest.”
Here are the projected lineups:
Matt Moulson - Zemgus Girgensons - Tyler Ennis
Brian Flynn - Torrey Mitchell - Brian Gionta
Marcus Foligno - Cody Hodgson - Drew Stafford
Nicolas Deslauriers - Cody McCormick - Patrick Kaleta
Josh Gorges - Tyler Myers
Nikita Zadorov - Rasmus Ristolainen
Mike Weber - Tyson Strachan
Scratched: Chris Stewart, Andre Benoit
Injured: Andrej Meszaros (concussion-like symptoms)
Jonathan Huberdeau - Nick Bjugstad - Tomas Fleischmann
Sean Bergenheim - Jussi Jokinen - Brad Boyes
Brandon Pirri - Vincent Trocheck - Jimmy Hayes
Tomas Kopecky - Derek MacKenzie - Shawn Thornton
Willie Mitchell - Dmitry Kulikov
Brian Campbell - Aaron Ekblad
Dylan Olsen - Erik Gudbranson
Injuries: Dave Bolland (lower body), Scottie Upshall (ankle), Aleksander Barkov (hand)
Status report: Gallant said he wasn’t sure whether Barkov and Upshall would fly with the team for the start of their road trip, but he said they both were likely to join the team on the road at some point. ... Stafford will return to the Buffalo lineup after missing the past three games because of a lower-body injury. ... Nolan said Friday that Meszaros still was going through the concussion protocol.
Who’s hot:???????????????????????????Ekblad, the first pick in the 2014 NHL???????????????????????????Draft, has a three-game point streak (2-1-3). ... Bjugstad has eight goals in the past 10 games, including three two-goal performances. ... Girgensons has six goals in the past 11 games.