Remember three years ago, when the Ted Nolan Islanders opened the season by sweeping a home-and-home against Buffalo, and the Mike Comrie toe drag actually worked that weekend, and for a brief moment it was like, "Hey, Ryan Smyth declined our love, but this is alright. We can get this done," and the Islanders were in a playoff position on New Year's Day and Rick DiPietro was a healthy All-Star and...remember that?
It feels like it's been that long since the Islanders faced the Sabres. Somehow, in mid-January, this is the first meeting of the season for these two conference rivals. And after spending half a season as strangers in a strange state with a schedule that ignored the other's existence, they're about to play each other three times in the next nine days. Talk about shocking the system. It's not been quite so long as that 2007-08 opener though: Then-Islanders Nolan and Miro Satan aren't with either side. Marc-Andre Bergeron and Mike Commodore are in the minors. Maxim Afinogenov and Josef Vasicek are in Europe. Tim Connolly is still a walking injury.
From the long view the Sabres, to borrow an aged turn, aren't in a good way. They've 10 more points than the Islanders, of course, but that's also 8 points from the East's 8th seed before last night's action. Several years of reliance on Ryan Miller Or Else plus has them in a sort of limbo. Perhaps the incoming owner Terry Pegula will be a savior and set things on a clearer course. That's usually what is expected of new owners, anyway.
Sabres (19-19-5) @ Islanders (13-22-7)
Nassau [gloriously unsponsored] Veterans Mem. Coliseum
MSG+, MSG-B, audio - WRHU 88.7
SBN Buffalo: Die by the Blade
Jon Sim didn't report to Bridgeport, but Katie Strang reports [$5 please] he was around the Coliseum this week, so while he is suspended and got the "unconditional waivers" treatment, I have to imagine there is some sympathy for his situation: A longtime NHL veteran on a two-way contract getting the (talent-appropriate) waiver-carousel treatment all season, the desire to take a Swiss offer and run is understandable. Buses in the AHL with no real shot of sticking in the NHL, versus a car and lodging on a softer hockey schedule in a beautiful country? Gonna need a moment to think on that one--okay deal.
That said, the Isles re-signed Sim last summer for a reason -- precisely the role for which they used him, as a swing man to call up as injuries warrant. Sim's production was nil at the NHL level this year -- and to be fair, it was usually with fourth-line linemates, although his moments of excelling with better linemates were only occasional. However, at the AHL level he was a point per game player both this season and last time around. Can't say that loss doesn't hurt there. The Sound Tigers announced two new forwards on PTOs yesterday.
Other Lineup Notes
- Way less than a full deck: Frans Nielsen is still out with his groin injury.
- Rhett Rakhshani was put on IR with that concussion, though no word on how serious it is. Not that concussions are predictable anyway. Just hoping for the best after a very fluke injury.
- The goalie situation goes as Rick DiPietro's health goes. That was unclear as of yesterday, with Jack Capuano and RDP being described as "optimistic" by Strang.
- Dylan Reese was waived, leaving the Islanders with six healthy defensemen at the moment. They'd spent much of the season with eight on the roster, so we may be looking at a crowded forward corps soon with Kyle Okposo hoping to resume contact and maybe even return in the next two weeks. Then there's the question of Doug Weight...
- Patrick Kaleta was listed as questionable for this one, which I know just breaks your heart.
Derek Roy still leads the Sabres, producing at a point per game clip. And despite the Sabres being stuck at NHL quasi-.500 half-way through the season, they are outshooting opponents by about three shots per game, a big enough margin to give one pause.
Elsewhere, Puck Daddy's Sean Leahy reviewed the cupcakes. Agree? Disagree? I myself didn't try them.
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Game thread will be up tonight, but I won't be part of it. I'm out in the woods, in a cabin, checking in when I get a bit of reception from civilization. Hopefully some of the upstaters check in tonight -- there's no way their MSG feed can be blocked for this one!