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by Chris Ryndak / Buffalo Sabres

RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA – As the Buffalo Sabres prepare to kick off the second half of the 2014-15 season, they’ll look to do so right off the hop with a good first shift after the opening faceoff.

The Sabres are set to take on the Carolina Hurricanes at 7 p.m. at PNC Arena on Thursday. The Tops Gamenight Pregame show will begin at 6:30 p.m. on MSG-B and Bell. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550.

“The key word today was we have to play with some urgency,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said after the morning skate. “Whatever you do, you can’t just backcheck to backcheck. You have to backcheck with a purpose. You’ve got to get back in position with purpose and all those type of things. We just want to get some urgency into our game and some energy and some compete. You never know what happens if you do those things.”

The Sabres are 1-8-1 in their past 10 games and have been outscored 16-4 in the first periods of those games. They’ve given up nine first-period goals in the past three.

“It’s mental preparation. Just come to the rink and when you step on the rink, it’s game on,” center Zemgus Girgensons said. “You give a team those 10, 15 minutes of a slow-paced game, those many mistakes we do, they’re going to score and they’re going to take huge advantage of the next two periods. We just have to come out mentally prepared for tonight.”

Buffalo has struggled on the penalty kill lately, giving up five power-play goals in the past four games. On the season, they’re 28th overall at 75 percent. Their penalty kill is in last place on the road at 65.7 percent.

The team has focused on making adjustments and hopes that translates in the game.

“We worked on some video and sometimes you have ups and downs,” Girgensons said. “Right now, we’re probably at the lowest level on the PK in the past five games. We did some changes and we’re looking forward to improve it.”

The coaching staff had been looking to find ways for Nicolas Deslauriers to play more minutes. One solution to get him more involved was to have him start killing penalties. He’s settled in lately in the role, a new one for him, and has embraced the camaraderie shared by those tasked with those special-teams responsibilities.

“It was weird a little bit at the beginning, but now I feel like if I’m not on it, I want to be on it,” Deslauriers said. “It’s more about taking pride in killing penalties. It’s like a little team within a team so it gives me a little bit of a chance to be something and it’s been going good.”

Drew Stafford is traveling back from Buffalo following the birth of his first child, so while he wasn’t at the morning skate, he’ll be a game-time decision against Carolina. Nolan hopes he makes it in time, so until then, the lineup is “status quo.”

Andrej Meszaros and Andre Benoit will once again be healthy scratches on the blue line. Jhonas Enroth will get the call in net.

A music video made by rappers in Latvia has been making the rounds on the Internet over the past 24 hours. The song, called “Zemgus Girgensons,” explains in Latvian how the singer wants to live the kind of lavish life he thinks Girgensons leads.

The nation of Latvia helped propel Girgensons to the top of NHL All-Star voting and he’ll start in the game later this month after receiving over 1.5 million votes. The music video is another example of the strong fanbase he has in his home country.

“It’s another way to show support so I think it’s just cool and funny,” Girgensons said after practice.

26 Matt Moulson – 28 Zemgus Girgensons – 63 Tyler Ennis
80 Chris Stewart – 84 Phil Varone – 65 Brian Flynn
19 Cody Hodgson – 25 Mikhail Grigorenko – 44 Nicolas Deslauriers
8 Cody McCormick – 59 Tim Schaller – 36 Patrick Kaleta

4 Josh Gorges – 57 Tyler Myers
51 Nikita Zadorov – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
6 Mike Weber – 24 Tyson Strachan

1 Jhonas Enroth
34 Michal Neuvirth

Game-time Decision: 21 Drew Stafford
Scratched: 12 Brian Gionta (injured, upper body), 41 Andrej Meszaros, 61 Andre Benoit
Injured Reserve: 17 Torrey Mitchell (upper body), 82 Marcus Foligno (hand)

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