PREVIEW: New York Islanders, Sabres meet as teams head in opposite directions

Mar 4, 2021; Uniondale, New York, USA; Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen (55) celebrates with center Sam Reinhart (23) after scoring a goal against New York Islanders goalie Ilya Sorokin (30) during the third period at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Things are going so well for the New York Islanders that they’re getting multi-goal games from fourth-line players and stout goaltending from a rookie backup.

Things are not going nearly that well for the Buffalo Sabres.

The Islanders will look to remain red hot and deepen the Sabres’ misery Saturday afternoon when New York hosts Buffalo in the middle game of a three-game series in Uniondale, N.Y.

Matt Martin had his first multi-goal game in almost seven years Thursday night as the Islanders never trailed and Ilya Sorokin made 16 saves in a 5-2 win.

Martin, a longtime fourth-liner relied upon mostly for grit, scored in an unusual fashion in the first and in a more typical manner in the third in his third career two-goal game and first since March 25, 2014.

Martin’s shot from behind the net bounced off the mask of Sabres goalie Jonas Johansson and into the top of the net with 3:39 left in the first. The right winger capped the scoring late in the third, when he and linemate Casey Cizikas engaged in a lengthy battle for the puck behind the Sabres’ net with Buffalo defensemen Rasmus Ristolainen and Brandon Montour. Cizikas finally emerged with the puck and passed to Martin, who scored with 5:32 remaining.

“That’s what I love about that line — they don’t cheat the game, they play it right,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said after the Islanders improved to 5-0-1 in their past six games and 10-2-2 since Feb. 1. “It’s nice to see them get rewarded, because there’s nights when they’re doing a great job, get some chances and never get rewarded. But tonight they were fortunate to get the reward.”

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In a summation of the different directions in which the Islanders and Sabres are traveling, Martin had as many goals Thursday as Buffalo’s Taylor Hall — a former Hart Trophy winner — has all season. Hall opened the Sabres’ scoring 3:08 into the second by putting back the rebound of a shot by Cody Eakin for his first goal since the season opener Jan. 14.

But the Sabres scored two goals or fewer for the fourth straight game and the 11th time in 21 games this season. The loss was the fifth straight for Buffalo (0-4-1), which is 2-8-1 since Feb. 15, when it returned to action following a coronavirus pause.

“Everyone is trying to make plays,” Ristolainen said Thursday night. “No one wants to suck, no one wants to make a mistake, no one wants to be on the ice to let the other team score. But yeah, we’ve got to figure it out.”

Although Sorokin recorded his third straight victory Thursday, No. 1 goalie Semyon Varlamov is likely to return at goalie Saturday. Varlamov made 28 saves in the Islanders’ 2-1 win over the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday.

With starting goalie Linus Ullmark expected to miss the rest of the month with a lower body injury, Johansson and Carter Hutton are splitting time in net for the Sabres. Johansson made 40 saves Thursday while Hutton stopped 16 shots in a 3-2 loss to the New York Rangers on Tuesday.

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–Field Level Media