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Friday. October 5th (All times eastern)

New York Islanders (0-0-0) at Buffalo Sabres (0-0-0), 7:30 p.m.

(Sports Network) - A pair of Eastern Conference rivals will begin their 2007-08 campaigns tonight in Buffalo, as the Sabres welcome the New York Islanders to HSBC Arena for the opener of a home-and-home series.

The Sabres had their best-ever regular season in 2006-07, but a disappointing playoffs finish soon gave way to a painful offseason for the diehard Buffalo fans.

Buffalo won its first-ever Presidents' Trophy last year, but was ousted in the Eastern Conference finals for the second consecutive season. Two years ago eventual Stanley Cup champion Carolina sent Buffalo packing, and the rival Ottawa Senators downed the Sabres this past season.

Just a few weeks after watching the Senators fall to Anaheim in the Cup finals, the Sabres lost both of their co-captains to free agency, as Daniel Briere signed with the Philadelphia Flyers and later in the same day Chris Drury left to join the New York Rangers. The centermen combined for 164 points during the 2006-07 regular season and their absence will certainly be felt in Buffalo this year.

Losing a pair of players such as Briere and Drury in one offseason is a tough pill to swallow, but the Sabres still have scoring depth in their lineup. An even more pressing issue for Buffalo will be how the team will make up for the departure of its two biggest leaders.

The Sabres also begin this season with injuries to some key players. Ales Kotalik is expected to miss this evening's game with a sprained knee and fellow wing Maxim Afinogenov is questionable with a hip flexor.

Steady defenseman Teppo Numminen is out indefinitely after undergoing surgery on September 20 to repair a valve in his heart.

The Islanders made the playoffs last year as the eighth seed and were bounced out in the first round by Buffalo. New York also lost some key components this offseason when it watched forwards Ryan Smyth and Jason Blake head for greener pastures through free agency.

The Isles also ended the failed Alexei Yashin experiment this offseason. Yashin, a talented but lethargic centerman, was bought out and the final four seasons of his contract were voided.

But, New York did add veteran right winger and new team captain Bill Guerin to its roster. The Islander sweater will be the seventh different one that the 36-year-old has worn over the course of his strong career.

Guerin had a 36-goal 2006-07 season that was split between St. Louis (61 games) and San Jose (eight goals in 16 games).

The Islanders also brought in forwards Mike Comrie and Ruslan Fedotenko in the offseason and hope those players can help Guerin shoulder the scoring load.

Also, the Isles still have franchise goaltender Rick DiPietro at their disposal. The netminder started 62 games last season and posted a 32-19-9 record to go along with a strong 2.58 goals-against average and an even stronger .919 save percentage.

Buffalo has dominated the Isles over the past two seasons, winning seven of the last eight encounters. New York has also dropped four straight at HSBC Arena and hasn't won in Buffalo since February 27, 2004.

The Islanders will host the Sabres Saturday night at Nassau Coliseum.

10/05 10:39:22 ET


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