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New York Islanders vs. Buffalo Sabres: Ted Nolan returns, Pat LaFontaine doesn't

Tanks align at the Coliseum.

Ted Nolan and The Sacco.
Ted Nolan and The Sacco.
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Islanders played, and lost, last night at home to the San Jose Sharks. Tonight's opponent is a little less challenging. The Buffalo Sabres played, and lost, Thursday night to the Carolina Hurricanes. The Sabres allowed 55 shots. New acquisition Michal Neuvirth faced 54 of them, stopping 52.

For the Isles, Anders Nilsson is in after Evgeni Nabokov played last night. The Sabres no longer employe Steve Ott, but  Matt Carkner is in for Matt Donovan because sometimes having two Matts is just too darn confusing.

Sabres (19-39-8, 8th/New Atlantic) @ Islanders (25-34-9, 8th/Metro)
Nassau [gloriously unsponsored] Veterans Memorial Coliseum
7 p.m. EDT | MSG+ | WRHU
Pat LaFontaine doesn't exist here either: Die By The Blade

What ails the Sabres? So, so much in their inevitable route to finish last overall in 2013-14 -- including the loss of the lone live and signed body from the Ryan Miller trade, Chris Stewart, as well as Tyler Meyers, who is out at least for tonight.

But here is a fair symbol and scapegoat all in one, the worst of the worst contracts handed out in response to the influx of Pegulabucks:

Ville Leino doesn't have a single goal this season, through 47 games, and hasn't scored a goal since March 30, 2013. For this, the Sabres are paying him $4.5 million, making Leino the team's highest paid forward.

Which means, of course, Leino will score against the Islanders tonight.

I say that half in woe-is-us Isles fan jest, but there's also a reason to think it could happen tonight versus any other night: .906.

That number is the Islanders' even strength (including 4-on-4) save percentagee at present, tied with Calgary for the worst in the league.

It's As if the Gods Hate Us...or Refuse to Strap on the Pads

I don't want to hit the goalie topic over and over, because we do it all the time even though we tried to delay this year's tirade for as long as possible. But the Isles outshoot teams fairly often (more often than not), they give up three goals in a game more often than not, they even outchance teams more often than not.

So when they say stuff like this (via Newsday) I just wonder if they don't see the elephant in the room, or if they're being diplomatic:

"...they're learning the tough way," coach Jack Capuano said. "You could see that in a couple of the goals-against tonight. I am a little surprised that, at times, we give up a limited number of chances but they end up in the back of our net."

"This is kind of how it's been lately," said Kyle Okposo, whose two assists gave him a team-leading 67 points this season. "We haven't made a ton of mistakes, but they've cost us."

I'm not absolving the young defense; they make their share of mistakes. But here's the thing: Every defenseman in the NHL makes mistakes. Yet for some reason, a higher percentage of the Islanders' mistakes end up in their net. It's as if the Islanders lack a certain something that most other teams have ... can't place my finger on it though.

New Old Faces

But anyway, tonight will be a bunch of young lineups facing off, as well as two great heads of hair behind the bench in Jack Capuano and Ted Nolan, returning to the Coliseum for the first time. That in itself carries its own entertainment value, a little more than you'd typically expect from the worst and fourth-worst teams in the league.

In a further bit of historical trivia, another former Islanders person (or unperson) never got a chance to return to the Coliseum as a Sabres employee: Pat LaFontaine's tenure was so brief, and the Isles-Sabres schedule so odd this year, that this is the teams' first meeting in five months.