PREVIEW: Buffalo Sabres get another crack at Isles after layoff

By Field Level Media
Feb 15, 2021; Buffalo, New York, USA; NHL linesman Devin Berg (87) drops the puck for a face-off between Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel (9) and New York Islanders center Brock Nelson (29) during the third period at KeyBank Center. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

While the Buffalo Sabres might be a little rusty from their recent COVID-19-related layoff, the New York Islanders continue to flourish amid their most successful stretch of the month-old season.

Riding a seven-game point streak, the visiting Islanders look for a third consecutive victory overall — and second in as many nights — over the Sabres on Tuesday.

New York went winless over five games from Jan. 24-31 but made it to overtime in each of the final two of that stretch to begin what’s become a 4-0-3 run following Monday’s 3-1 win at Buffalo. Jean-Gabriel Pageau scored his fourth goal in three contests and Mathew Barzal recorded an assist to extend his point streak to a career-high nine games.

“We’ve got to keep climbing,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “(Monday) wasn’t perfect, but a necessary type of game for us, and I thought as the game wore on, we got better and better.”

Semyon Varlamov (7-2-2, 1.89 goals-against average) made 20 saves on Monday night to win his fourth straight start against Buffalo. However, backup Ilya Sorokin (0-2-1, 3.65 GAA) could get his fourth start of the season — all on the road — and first since Jan. 31 in this back-to-back scenario. New York also has veteran netminder Cory Schneider still on the roster.

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Pageau has six goals in his last four games versus Buffalo, which has lost four in a row to the Islanders, who have recorded 16 goals while winning five of the last six.

Victor Olofsson scored his fifth goal and extended a career-high point streak to seven games for the Sabres, who were playing for the first time since Jan. 31.

A COVID-19 outbreak halted team activities for several days, and Buffalo still did not have regular defensemen Rasmus Ristolainen, Brandon Montour and key forward Dylan Cozens due to protocols on Monday.

The Sabres had earned at least one point in five consecutive games before falling 5-3 to New Jersey on the last day of January and losing Monday in their return to action. It did not help that Buffalo failed to record a shot on goal in the third period, while the Islanders had 12.

“That’s what it comes down to in this league: either you’re good enough or you’re not,” Buffalo star Jack Eichel, who’s been held without a point in two of the last three games, told The Athletic. “I think as a group, myself, everyone, we’ve got to be better.”

The Sabres rank among the NHL leaders with 13 power-play goals but are last in the league with 16 even-strength scores. All but one of Olofsson’s goals this season have come with the man-advantage.

Linus Ullmark (3-2-2, 2.63 GAA) stopped 26 shots for the Sabres on Monday in suffering just his second regulation defeat in seven starts this season. Carter Hutton (1-3-0, 3.05 GAA), though, could be in net Tuesday for the Sabres in this contest.

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–Field Level Media