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PREVIEW: Sinking Buffalo Sabres seek answers as New York Islanders loom again

Mar 6, 2021; Uniondale, New York, USA; Buffalo Sabres left wing Jeff Skinner (53) is hit by New York Islanders defenseman Scott Mayfield (24) during the second period at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 6, 2021; Uniondale, New York, USA; Buffalo Sabres left wing Jeff Skinner (53) is hit by New York Islanders defenseman Scott Mayfield (24) during the second period at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

For 23 or so minutes Saturday afternoon, the Buffalo Sabres played as if general manager Kevyn Adams lit a fire beneath them.

Five minutes later, the Sabres were well on their way to another loss — and perhaps closer to another more forceful reaction from Adams.

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The Sabres will look to snap a six-game losing streak and begin emerging from an extended slump Sunday afternoon, when they are scheduled to close out a three-game series against the host New York Islanders in Uniondale, N.Y.

The two teams will be meeting for the second time in under 24 hours. The Islanders scored four second-period goals — including three in a span of fewer than five minutes before the midway point of the period — in a 5-2 win Saturday.

Rookie Jacob Bryson scored his first NHL goal 33 seconds into the first Saturday for the Sabres, who maintained the lead until Mathew Barzal’s highlight reel-worthy goal 3:51 into the second. After Rasmus Ristolainen fell down in pursuit of Barzal, the Islanders center shuffled the puck in the crease before tucking a backhand between his legs and past goalie Carter Hutton.

“It’s kind of a move that you do instinctual and you kind of just mess around with it in practice and you rarely do it in a game,” Barzal said. “So it’s a lot of instincts and just kind of being in the moment and just reacting.”

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Brock Nelson scored just 85 seconds later to give the Islanders a lead they’d never relinquish and send the Sabres to their sixth straight loss (0-5-1) and their 10th loss in 12 games (2-9-1) since returning from a coronavirus pause Feb. 15.

“Obviously everyone is frustrated right now with the way everything is going, but it’s a tough league,” Sabres defenseman Brandon Montour said. “You have to bring it every night. If you don’t, the score shows up like that.”

Adams expressed his unhappiness with the slide during a 30-minute Zoom call Friday, when he didn’t deny he was considering broad changes for the Sabres, whose nine-season playoff drought is the longest in the NHL.

“Everything’s being evaluated,” Adams said. “(Head coach) Ralph (Krueger) and I talk every day, multiple times a day. We’re very honest with each other. He understands the situation we’re in is unacceptable and the players do. Everybody does. It’s just flat-out not good enough.”

Few teams have been better lately than the Islanders, who have won six of seven (6-0-1) and 11 of 15 (11-2-2) since the start of February to move into first place in the East Division. New York hasn’t won a division title since the 1987-88 season.

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Barzal’s goal got all the attention Saturday, but the victory was a team-wide effort for the Islanders, who had 13 skaters record one point but only two — Barzal and Scott Mayfield — with two points.

Overall this season, eight Islanders have at least 10 points and five players have at least five goals.

“We didn’t have a power play tonight and we’re getting five goals,” Barzal said. “Everyone is happy. Everyone is scoring. We’re in a good mind frame right now. That’s why we’re having success.”

–Field Level Media