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As contenders line up to face Sabres, it's not fun being out of playoffs

The Los Angeles Kings arrived in Buffalo fresh off a big trade with more on the way as they aim for the NHL playoffs. Jordan Nolan is happy for his friends but disappointed in his last-place plight.

"It's not fun," the Buffalo Sabres forward said Friday. "It's not fun losing this many games and being out of it so early."

When the Sabres acquired Nolan from the Kings off waivers prior to the season, he was eager for a fresh start on a team with potential. Buffalo's 17-30-11 record heading into Saturday afternoon's game shows how that turned out.

"We still have a lot to work for," Nolan said in KeyBank Center. "Guys are battling for different things. You come in here and just work. It's really simple. You just come in here and work and put your best foot forward, try to win as many games as we can."

As the schedule heads toward the trade deadline and homestretch, excitement is building in many dressing rooms. The Sabres merely have a chance ruin those teams' day whenever they meet.

"It's always tough," coach Phil Housley said of being out of contention. "It's just the position we're in. We have to just face it. We want to start to continue to win here and build that environment down the stretch.

"It's a great challenge for our group. There's a lot of teams that we're playing that are in the playoffs or are in playoff contention. We understand who our opponent is, so we know we have to be ready because they're probably saying this is the game that could turn it around for us. We have to be ready to go."

The next couple of weeks won't be easy for the Sabres, although not many have been easy. After hosting the 30-22-5 Kings at 1 p.m. Saturday, they also have two games against Washington (33-17-7), one with Boston (35-12-8) and one against Tampa Bay (39-16-3), with a visit to Detroit (23-24-9) mixed in.

"It's a good challenge that we have so many games with playoff contenders," left wing Zemgus Girgensons said. "That's when you see who can step up and play against the big guys who put in work. The motivation is just to win that game.

"Everything is better when you're winning, no matter where you're at the in standings."

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The run against contenders could conceivably drop the Sabres to last overall in the standings. They have 45 points, worst in the Eastern Conference and three ahead of Arizona. The Coyotes have upcoming games with Edmonton (23-29-4) and Vancouver (22-30-6), so they'll be looking to leave the basement.

This is certainly not what Nolan thought his fate would be after the trade. He was accustomed to contending for Stanley Cups or playoff spots.

"That's where I started my career, and we were so successful from the start," said Nolan, who won the Cup as a rookie in 2012 and again in 2014. "When I was there we always just focused on keep playing the way you have to play to win hockey games. It could be a boring 1-0 game. You never know.

"For us to be successful, we just have to play our game, work hard, get pucks deep and just keep going."

Some Sabres will be going out of town before the Feb. 26 deadline. Maybe someone will acquire Nolan for his playoff experience. The Kings got the trade season rolling by acquiring defenseman Dion Phaneuf from Ottawa in a package that included Marian Gaborik going to the Senators.

The uncertain future should keep the Sabres motivated, although they looked rough during Thursday's 3-2 overtime loss in Ottawa.

"It's different for everyone," Nolan said of the no-playoff motivation. "Some guys are younger. Some guys are older and looking for contracts. Some guys are hoping Buffalo likes what they're doing and hope they re-sign them.

"There's lots of things to play for individually, but I think that doesn't happen or work if you're not playing together as a team and bringing the work every night."

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