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Nolan makes return to LA as Sabres visit Kings

Okposo out due to illness; Lehner to start in net

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

LOS ANGELES - When it comes to preparing for a contest against the Los Angeles Kings, it's hard to imagine anyone being better equipped than Jordan Nolan. The 6-foot-3-inch forward was a King himself for six seasons, an ideal fit for the heavy style that led to Stanley Cup victories in 2012 and 2014.

Nolan will return to Staples Center for the first time as a visitor when the Buffalo Sabres face the Kings on Saturday night.

"LA is pretty structured, really defensive," Nolan said. "They've got a great goalie, great penalty kill. When I was there we took a lot of passion in that style. When you come in this barn you've got to stick to your structure, because they almost just wait and slowly take the game to you. They want to win a 1-0, 2-1 game."

Video: BUF at LAK Preview (10/14/17)

Those are precisely the types of games the Sabres have run into when coming to LA in recent years. Although the Sabres have had success against the Kings in Buffalo, they've been shut out four straight times at Staples Center. Each time, the score was 2-0.

Jonathan Quick was responsible for three of those shutouts, and he's expected to get the start in net for the Kings tonight. The Sabres will look to disrupt him by establishing their presence at the net-front, which has been an area of focus for the team at recent practices.

"Down low, you're going to really have to fight to get to the interior," Sabres coach Phil Housley said. "They're a big, heavy team and that's what we talked about. But if you look at the statistics, we're the fourth-heaviest team in the league. So we're going to try to use our size and speed to get there, and again I think our D have to do a better job of getting pucks in there."

With his size, Nolan is a player who can excel in that area. After sitting as a healthy scratch for two games, Housley said he was pleased with Nolan's return to the lineup in San Jose on Thursday. He tallied four hits in 9:54 and nearly set up a Seth Griffith goal in the third period.

The job for Nolan tonight will be to keep his emotions in check as he plays his former team for the first time. A seventh-round pick by the Kings in 2009, Nolan had never played for another organization until the Sabres claimed him off waivers last month.

Video: Pregame: HOUSLEY

"I think for the first time it's difficult because those are a lot of the guys you went to battle with, and in Jordan's case won a Stanley Cup," Housley said. "Deep down, you want to do your best but also you are a little bit nervous and tight. Hopefully he can get through those first couple shifts and just play the game."

Nolan admitted to having a chip on his shoulder when he was first acquired by Buffalo, and he said he'll play that way tonight. At the same time, his primary focus is helping the Sabres earn their first win of a young season.

"They didn't want me anymore," he said. "I think anytime a team doesn't want you, you want to prove them wrong and show them what they're missing out on. But I think I've moved past that and I'm just trying to help this team win."

Coverage tonight begins at 10 p.m. with GMC Gamenight on MSG-B, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops at 10:30.


Okposo out due to illness

Kyle Okposo was able to play through an illness in San Jose on Thursday night, but he'll be held out of the lineup against the Kings. Matt Moulson will take his place on a line with Evander Kane and Ryan O'Reilly.

Housley did not rule Okposo out for Sunday's game in Anaheim.

"He's feeling a little bit under the weather so we're going to give him the night off," Housley said. "He's just got a bug. He fought through it in San Jose with a really good effort but it got the best of him. He's feeling a lot better today, that's what I can say."


Projected lineup

Housley said he'll stick with the six defensemen who played in San Jose, meaning Josh Gorges will remain in the lineup for his second game of the season while Victor Antipin will sit as a healthy scratch.

"Our breakouts were a lot better," Housley said, referring to the game against the Sharks. "Josh had a really good, solid game for us so we're going to stick with the same six."

Robin Lehner will start in net. Here's tonight's projected lineup in its entirety:

28 Zemgus Girgensons - 15 Jack Eichel - 29 Jason Pominville
9 Evander Kane - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 26 Matt Moulson
23 Sam Reinhart - 22 Johan Larsson - 25 Seth Griffith 
67 Benoit Pouliot - 10 Jacob Josefson - 17 Jordan Nolan

6 Marco Scandella - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
82 Nathan Beaulieu - 5 Matt Tennyson
4 Josh Gorges - 19 Jake McCabe

40 Robin Lehner
31 Chad Johnson

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