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by Jourdon LaBarber / Buffalo Sabres

SUNRISE, Fla. – Buffalo has its captain back. After missing the team’s first three games with a lower-body injury, Brian Gionta participated in the Sabres’ morning skate on Thursday and will make his season debut against the Florida Panthers at BB&T Center.

Pregame coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Tops Sabres Gamenight on MSG-B and Bell TV. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

Gionta will play on the right wing opposite Evander Kane and with Jack Eichel as his center. Sabres coach Dan Bylsma did not reveal who the offensive scratch would be to make room for Gionta in the lineup.

After being impressed with Gionta’s play alongside Eichel and Kane in the preseason, Bylsma has started three different right wingers over the course of three games in his absence. The captain’s return may finally bring some consistency to the top-half lineup.

“It’s going to be great,” Eichel said. “Obviously you get your captain back, that means a lot to your team … veteran presence, a guy who works really hard away from the puck and he’ll do anything to help the team win. I think it’s good for me having a guy like that on my line. He can play any position, any situation so it’s a good get for us.”

Bylsma also announced that Chad Johnson will start in net for the third straight-game and that the Sabres would field the same six defensemen as they did in Monday’s victory over Columbus. That means Carlo Colaiacovo will serve as a healthy scratch once again.

Thursday’s game will also mark the Sabres first road contest of the season. After playing their first three games at First Niagara Center, Bylsma said that the players had been looking forward to their first road trip as team.

“I think you’re always anticipating getting on the road as a team as the start of the season,” Bylsma said. “And it’s no different, we get a big win at home against Columbus, it was a great feeling but I think the guys were excited and [felt] anticipation about getting on the road as a team, and it starts here.”


Thursday night will mark the first opportunity for a revamped Sabres lineup to have a crack against a goaltender who’s given them a lot trouble in recent years. Roberto Luongo, who is expected to start in net for Florida, currently has a six-game winning streak against Buffalo and has posted shutouts in four of those games.

Luongo is 1-1-0 in two starts this season but has allowed only one goal in each game, posting a .972 save percentage.

“I know he’s a guy who, he’s going to keep it to two or less,” Bylsma said of the Panthers goaltender. “That’s what he believes and that’s what he pretty much does for this team every night he plays.”

Florida is 2-1-0 this season and has allowed only one goal per game, with Al Montoya filling in between the pipes for Luongo in their most recent win against Carolina. In three games, their line of Aleksander Barkov (1+2), Jonathan Huberdeau (0+1) and Jaromir Jagr (2+1) has combined for seven points.

“They’re a hard working team. That’s evident from watching them play. And they’re a fast team, they have it throughout their lineup,” Bylsma said. “You have to be very weary of how they’re going to play and we need to be ready for that.”


If Eichel plays well against the Panthers in his first road game, it won’t be the first memory he’s made at BB&T Center. Back in June, the arena was the site for the 2015 NHL Draft where Eichel was selected second overall by the Sabres.

“I told Jack that already,” Bylsma said. “I said ‘It was right down there where they called your name.’ I don’t think he figured out what I was talking about but it came to my mind, we started at center ice there and looked down to the other end and it came to my mind that it wasn’t too long ago that we heard the second pick’s name, just right there.”


90 Ryan O’Reilly -- 28 Zemgus Girgensons -- 63 Tyler Ennis
9 Evander Kane -- 15 Jack Eichel -- 12 Brian Gionta
26 Matt Moulson -- 22 Johan Larsson/23 Sam Reinhart -- 88 Jamie McGinn
44 Nicolas Deslauriers -- 17 David Legwand -- 82 Marcus Foligno

4 Josh Gorges -- 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
6 Mike Weber -- 46 Cody Franson
29 Jake McCabe -- 3 Mark Pysyk

31 Chad Johnson
50 Nathan Lieuwen

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