Tonight is the first time the Islanders face Buffalo since the Sabres went from Little Market That Could to fully operational Terry Pegula Death Star. Over the summer, the Pegula Foundation went all in on spending to the cap, spending cash and asking questions later.
While Islanders fans wonder if Blake Comeau's $2.5 million non-arbitration award was a factor in getting him removed from the 3rd/4th line mix of passengers, the Sabres are allocating a $4.5 million cap hit through 2016-17 to Ville Leino, who has already seen fourth-line time for passenger-like behavior.
The Sabres' cap sheet at CapGeek reads like a Congressman's expense account, with Christian Ehrhoff's cap trailing off the right margin into infinity like a legislative issue no politicians want to deal with while they're still in office.
Win now, win tomorrow, and deal with the next CBA when it comes. (On that note, Ryan Miller trade rumors sound crazy, but if you think about which position on their roster has too much money relative to market price, Miller stands out.)
Not that he makes Miller expendable, but Jhonas Enroth has a great name (albeit an oddly placed "h") and has been excellent lately. Maybe he has Jedi vision. As long as we're doling out the Star Wars references, I can never hear his name without thinking of the desolate ice- and snow-covered planet Hoth, which [oh, just insert your own Buffalo joke here why don't you?].
Leino, by the way, is 12th on the Sabres in scoring with 2 goals and 4 assists. He's also tied for a team-low minus-5, as long as we're piling on the profligates.
Wounded Sabres: Getting Healthier
Of more immediate concern is the Sabres' spate of injuries, including Miller but also touching forward and defense -- and building depth to withstand that, more than anything, is why you spend to the cap if you can swing it. Tyler Myers is out with that broken wrist, Tyler Ennis and Miller are still out for at least a little longer, but Drew Stafford, Robyn Regehr and Dirty Kaleta went from the "might play" category yesterday to the "expected to play" slot this morning.
As a team, the Sabres bleed about the same number of shots (31.1) as the Isles but put nearly three more per game (30.9) on the opposition net. Their special teams are also performing quite nicely, with the PK at 88.4% and the PP at 19.3%.
They've been hurting and slumping (losing four of eight in regulation and going 1-1 in shootouts in two others), but they just put the final nail in Bruce Boudreau's tenure with the Capitals. All the injuries have fed the debut of Zack Kassian, who was selected one spot after Calvin de Haan in 2009 and who once injured 2009's #1 pick John Tavares in a CHL prospects exhibition.
Islanders Lineup: Return of Nino, Reasoner; More Montoya
In the parlance of our times, or at least of moments when Butch Goring gets excited, Al "Toyota" will start again in goal with Rick "DiPiestro" backing up. That's no shock. But Nino Niederreiter returns to the lineup to calm fan anxieties and Marty Reasoner returns in favor of Micheal Haley to calm mine.
(I actually saw tweets that the Islanders are "ruining" the raw 19-year-old Nino by having the nerve to scratch him for a week. The hyperbole of sports fans knows no limit.)
Newsday's Arthur Staple reports that David Ullstrom stays on Josh Bailey's wing with Brian Rolston, while Reasoner centers Nino and Matt Martin. At the risk of "ruining" Nino, I personally don't mind working him in slowly and building his game one fundamental brick at a time.
Memories: A meeting last season between these two teams featured the crazy sequence that saw Al Montoya (Oh what a feeling) get his first Islanders appearance while Michael Grabner capped a hat trick with the OT winner.
With the Isles at 6-11-4, we should be so lucky to be so entertained tonight. The Islanders are eight places and 11 points behind the Sabres in the East.
If you participate in our First Islanders Goal (and assists) pool, leave your picks over here. Remember that no picks are allowed after the opening faceoff, and only one pick per person.