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Sabres hope to stay hot in Florida @NHLdotcom

SABRES (4-1-1) at PANTHERS (2-4-0)

Season Series -- It's the first meeting this season between these two Eastern Conference rivals. Last season, Buffalo won the final three games of the four-game set between these two teams. Florida won the first game, 2-1 on Dec. 1.

Big Story -- Both teams are coming off a rare occurrence in their last game. Buffalo lost 4-2 to Atlanta on Saturday for its first regulation loss, becoming the last of the NHL's 30 teams to lose in 60 minutes. Florida defeated Philadelphia 4-2 on Friday, winning for the first time since an Opening Night shootout win against Chicago in Helsinki.

Team Scope:

-- Buffalo will be looking to put Saturday's result out of their heads quickly and can make a case that it was a mere fluke by pointing to the fact that Atlanta has had the Sabres' number for the past few seasons, as well as the fact that backup Patrick Lalime, and not red-hot starter Ryan Miller, was in goal. Still, the loss clearly rankled many of the Sabres. "You want to win every game," Lalime said. "That's what we play for. Maybe it's just a way for us to look in the mirror and say, 'We're a good team, but we've got to make sure we battle every night and come out strong.' You cannot take any time off in this League. There's so many good teams, so you've got to be on your game all 60 minutes."

Panthers -- Four consecutive losses were enough for Florida coach Pete DeBoer, who switched things around significantly in the come-from-behind win against the Flyers. Rostislav Olesz was moved up to the second line and had a strong game. Cory Stillman was sent to the third line and fourth-line center Shawn Matthias was sent to the minors, replaced by free-agent signee Dominic Moore. Also, Scott Clemmensen was in net for the first time, replacing a struggling Tomas Vokoun. That was a move DeBoer was hesitant to make in fear that it would send a message that Florida's early-season struggles were Vokoun's fault. "The bottom line is Tomas has played some real good hockey for us," DeBoer said. "But we have won one of our first five games. It's not Tomas' fault. It's the group of 20 and the coaches."

Who's Hot -- Buffalo's Clarke MacArthur is finally showing the form that has made him a minor-league star during the past three seasons. Playing on a line with playmaking center Tim Connolly and winger Jason Pominville, MacArthur has scored in three-straight games and leads the team with 4 goals and 6 points in six games. "He's been our best player," Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff told the Buffalo News. "I'm not even looking at stats. He's been our best competitor through this first stretch of games. It's something he can be pretty proud of from where he was at last year." For Florida, Clemmensen had a debut that he can be proud of. He struggled in the first period, but then held the fort as his teammates clawed back against Philadelphia. He allowed just two goals and made a strong first impression as he tries to prove that last season's brilliant run as an injury-replacement for Martin Brodeur in New Jersey was no fluke. "As I've said before: 40 games does not an NHL career make," Clemmensen said. "I feel like I still have a lot to prove. I want to get going on that."

Injury Report -- Buffalo left wing Thomas Vanek has made a quick recovery from the upper-body injury he suffered against Detroit last week. At first, the Sabres said the injury would sideline the Austrian sniper close to a month, but Vanek is already back at practice. It is unlikely he will play Wednesday, but he is listed as day-to-day. Buffalo will also be without defenseman Andrej Sekera, who injured his ribs on Oct. 10, and will be out until the end of the month. Florida's only injury is to rugged forward Nick Tarnasky, who is just starting to skate after suffering a broken orbital bone in the preseason.

Stat Pack -- Right wing Radek Dvorak has 14 shorthanded goals as a Panther, a franchise record. He set the mark with No. 13 last Monday against TampaBay and then added No. 14 for what proved to be the game-winner against the Flyers. Dvorak has 21 shorthanded goals in his NHL career.

Puck Drop -- Florida struggled to score against Buffalo last season, managing just eight goals in the four games. Plus, Florida has struggled to score this season, scoring just 13 goals in six games. So it will be interesting to see if the lineup changes instituted last game keep Florida firing on all cylinders. Also, pay attention to rookie Dmitri Kulikov, the Panthers' 18-year-old defenseman. He is logging serious minutes and leads the team with three assists. Miller has been run into several times already this season and it is becoming a sore point for the Sabres -- don't expect Miller's teammates to allow that to continue.

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