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Guy Carbonneau helped the Montreal Canadiens to two of their NHL-record 23 Stanley Cup titles as one of the premier defensive forwards in the league.

He hopes to lead them to a 24th as coach of the Canadiens, who begin their season Friday at HSBC Arena against the Buffalo Sabres.

Carbonneau was hired by former teammate Bob Gainey on Jan. 14 as associate coach of the Canadiens last season after Gainey fired Claude Julien and took on the dual roles of coach and general manager.

After Montreal's first-round playoff exit to eventual Stanley Cup-champion Carolina, Gainey relinquished the coaching duties to Carbonneau, a three-time Selke Trophy winner.

As coach, he is expected to further improve an offense that scored 125 goals in 41 games after his arrival, good for seventh in the NHL in that span.

More importantly, Carbonneau has the personnel to make improvements after offseason acquisitions of Sergei Samsonov - who helped Edmonton reach the Stanley Cup Finals - and Mike Johnson, who had 54 points for Phoenix.

"With the addition of both Samsonov and Johnson, we've added a pair of right-handed shots and a lot of speed," Carbonneau said. "Sergei brings a lot of speed and skill and I've always enjoyed watching him play.

"Johnson can help us in a number of ways," Carbonneau added. "I know he can score goals, he has had 20-25 goal seasons in the past, plus he is responsible in his own end. You can never have too many players who can play his type of two-way game."

Carbonneau will pair Samsonov with fellow Russian Alexei Kovalev, who had a team-high 65 points in 69 games. Veteran center Saku Koivu, who led the team with 45 assists, showed no ill effects in the preseason of an eye injury suffered in the playoffs, helping the Canadiens score a league-high 34 goals in nine preseason games.

The Canadiens also sought help for top defenseman Sheldon Souray, acquiring veteran blueliner Janne Niinimaa on Sunday from Dallas for Mike Ribeiro. Souray had 12 goals and 39 points last season, but also was minus-11.

Goaltender Cristobal Huet tries for a repeat performance from last season for the Canadiens. He started the season as a backup to Jose Theodore, but after the former Hart and Vezina Trophy winner's trade to Colorado, Huet proved to be a worthy replacement.

He finished 18-11-4 with a 2.20 GAA and a league-best .929 save percentage, and also was tied for second in the league with seven shutouts despite playing in just 36 games. Huet is 1-2-1 with a 3.49 ERA and .896 save percentage in his brief career against the Sabres.

Montreal looks to avoid matching its longest Stanley Cup drought since entering the league in 1917 until winning its first title in 1930.

The Sabres (1-0-0) opened their season by avenging their Game 7 Eastern Conference finals defeat to the Hurricanes with a 3-2 shootout victory Wednesday, making good on their promise to spoil Carolina's banner-raising ceremonies.

"It's nice to get that first win," Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said. "It doesn't matter how you get it or how ugly it is."

Jason Pominville and Chris Drury each scored in regulation, while Daniel Briere scored the lone goal of the shootout.

"Those early points are good to get in the season," said Briere, who had 58 points in 50 games last season. "It's a long season but if you can get a few like that it's a huge help down the road."

Ryan Miller, who had 32 saves in the game and turned aside all three shootout attempts, is 4-0-1 with a 1.78 goals-against average and .944 save percentage lifetime against the Canadiens.

Right wing Maxim Afinogenov had three goals and six assists in eight games against the Canadiens, helping the Sabres go 5-2-1 against their Northeast Division rivals.

Buffalo is 9-2-1 at home against Montreal since the start of the 2001-02 season.

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