Two games this weekend -- how spoiled we suddenly find ourselves. First up: Buffalo.
The Sabres, it's easy to forget (translation: I often forget), were a poorly timed Ryan Miller injury away from making the playoffs last year. With a few hardly earth-shattering exceptions, they return mostly that same playoff-caliber team this year -- with a healthy Miller and the addition of a promising, towering Tyler Myers.
7:30 p.m. EDT | [finance to do with kilts or something] Arena | MSG+2
Upstate blog on SBN: Die by the Blade
Last year, the Sabres were actually one of the few teams the Islanders handled well (2-1-1). The early-season 7-1 disaster at the Coliseum was the only occasion when the Islanders didn't take points. Otherwise, they won twice (including a Yann Danis shutout when Bill Guerin was pulled off the ice for trade amid much veteran discontent); they also lost a post-Christmas shootout in Buffalo.
But like last season, this year the Sabres have come out of the gate like they mean it. Miller is back in form, they're outshooting teams rather ridiculously, by an average of 38-23 per game. (The Islanders are averaging a 30-30 split so far.) Earlier this week, the Sabres offense broke out, feasting on Chris Osgood cooking to bludgeon the Red Wings 6-2. Fortunately for us, that game knocked Tomas Vanek out of the lineup.
Some Keys to a Happy Ending:
- The Sabres powerplay has yet to launch. They're just 3 for 22 (13.8%). The Isles must continue their PK success.
- Buffalo's PK has killed 10 of 12 (83.3%). I don't relish the idea of the Isles going 5-on-5 against a team that is seriously outshooting opponents. So if and when PP opportunities arise, godspeed.
- A performance worth noting from someone not named Tavares/Okposo/Moulson: The Isles have plenty of guys who are due to prove themselves. All I ask is a big statement from one of them.
- The Mental Game: The Sabres are riding high. The Islanders are at minimum wondering how they can round themselves into form. Scott Gordon is talking about making the young guys comfortable, which is why veteran captain Doug Weight draws the short straw to play on the wing:
"It's important that whatever struggles they have from being young, they play at their natural positions," Gordon said. "Doug's not going to play forever. The fact that he's willing to play the wing allows us to have more options for him."
For fans, I think we just want a full 60-minute effort -- and a win, one of these games, to ease early-season anxieties.
Can they do it tonight? I think so. The Islanders' forecheck could create some PP opportunities early, and if they convert, they know all too well the need to play 60 full minutes to finish the deal. But young teams are unpredictable, and you just don't know what the scrap-heap vets will bring night to night. I trust in Dwayne Roloson -- whose turn should be up -- to give them a chance. And I have some hope that the altered lines will produce something meaningful from Rob Schremp, or Josh Bailey, or Sean Bergenheim, or Blake Comeau. [Update: Of course, that practice lineup was before Joel Rechlicz was called up.] Somebody step up. Someone make a statement that your time has come.