The New York Islanders' first game of a new month brings their first look at a revitalized opponent. Though the Buffalo Sabres 4-7 record has them 7th in the eight-team "New" Atlantic Division, they are starting to see encouraging signs from some of the pieces to their rebuild -- and they're far from the worst team in the league as they were last season.
So these are not quite your father's Sabres, nor really are they the disastrous Sabres the Isles sent Matt Moulson to. (By the way, Moulson and family, teammates celebrated Halloween in excellent Batman style.)
In addition to franchise savior Eichel -- likely a first-overall pick in most non-McDavid years -- they've added all-zone forward Ryan O'Reilly, upon whom new coach Dan Bylsma has already heavily relied. Another major addition since the last time the Isles saw them, Evander Kane is out injured.
If you haven't seen Eichel yet, in addition to all the hand skills you expect from a top pick, he brings excellent skating and reach. That makes him elusive in all kinds of ways, as the Isles will surely find out tonight.
Tyler Ennis, who missed the previous two games, was due to take the pre-game skate and be a gametime decision.
With Robin Lehner's season-opening injury, ex-Isle Chad Johnson has had the bulk of starts, though Linus Ullmark played the back end of the Sabres' back-to-back Friday night.
Islanders (6-2-3) vs. Sabres (4-7-0)
7:30 p.m. EST | MSG+, radio all over
Brooklyn's [ingloriously sponsored] Center
Grooming Eichel: Die By The Blade
The Islanders, meanwhile, are coming off two consecutive disappointing extra time losses, but Jack Capuano felt the final two periods of yesterday's shootout loss in New Jersey at least showed some promise:
"That's probably the best overall game we've played this year; we just didn't get the two points," Capuano said. "Hopefully we can build off that."
That will draw skepticism from some quarters of the fanbase, but after one month the Isles are in good shape as they battle with three or four other teams to set the pace in the Metropolitan Division. Three points separate first (Washington) through fifth (New Jersey).
Though it won't be clear until later whether they must play a second game this weekend without John Tavares, even if they do they have the pieces to get two points against a team they need to beat.
Hockey Day in Brooklyn
Tonight's game concludes a big day of hockey at Barclays Center. Before the NHL contest, an NCAA doubleheader took place with Notre Dame vs. UConn and Army vs. Bentley.
Leave your First Islanders Goal picks for tonight's game here, before 7:30.