Game Preview: Islanders @ Sabres

The New York Islanders look to defeat the Buffalo Sabres at HSBC Arena on Sunday afternoon

Sunday, 02.13.2011 / 12:00 AM ET / News
By Dyan LeBourdais
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Game Preview: Islanders @ Sabres
A series of games in January saw the New York Islanders faceoff against the Buffalo Sabres three times in a nine-day span, posting a 2-1-0 record in that time. Now, just three weeks later, the Islanders will complete their fourth and final game against the club this season with a game at HSBC Arena on Sunday afternoon.

Buffalo will definitely come out hard. They’re currently ranked 10th in the Eastern Conference and are only three points behind Atlanta (ranked 8th) in the standings. Hence, the Sabres are fighting for every point to earn that eighth playoff seed.

“Buffalo has been playing well so it’s going to be a tough game,” Islanders forward Frans Nielsen said. “But we’ve been playing well too. We talked about really coming together as a group (on Friday) and we have to keep going. If we don’t come out playing a solid game and working hard (on Sunday), then (Friday night’s) game doesn’t mean much. So we have to be ready.”

After back-to-back wins, a slow start wouldn’t normally be in the cards for the Islanders next game. But when 364 penalty minutes are doled out in a single game, it’s safe to say players are a little bumped and bruised while the emotions on the bench were soaring.

John Tavares #91 and Matt Moulson #26 of the New York Islanders skate against Zbynek Michalek #4 and Kris Letang #58 of the Pittsburgh Penguins on February 11, 2011 at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
“The players play the game and emotions run high,” Islanders interim head coach Jack Capuano said. “It was just a situation where they played hard. You can look at it from all different angles, but there are two teams on the ice… It was a physical game on both parties.”

As a result, Capuano said he hopes there will not be an emotional let down when the puck drops on Sunday.

“As a coach, that’s one thing that you worry about,” Capuano said. “We battled so hard in this game (against Pittsburgh) and how are we going to come out against Buffalo? But we have to make sure that we’re prepared and we’re focused. We have to put this game behind us. It was 60 minutes of hockey and we move to the next one.”

Starts haven’t always been the Islanders strong point. Especially since the Islanders had a slow start against Buffalo on Jan. 23 and the Sabres scored a goal 15 seconds after the opening faceoff, going on to win 5-3.

“The last couple games, we’ve played a solid game,” Islanders forward Michael Grabner said. “We came out strong and we have to keep going. Obviously the starts were hurting us before that, so we just have to keep focused and be sharp the first 5-10 minutes.”

Capuano clearly hopes the team is ready to play right from the start and shows the same intensity, which helped them earn four goals in the first 20 minutes of play on Friday night. But with suspensions on the horizon, the lineup will likely look different and that’s a hindrance they’ll have to overcome.

“I think Garth (Snow) is going through the due diligence of what he has to go through with the league, but I suspect our lineup will most-likely have some changes in it,” Capuano said.

One position will likely remain constant. In consecutive starts, Mikko Koskinen made a total of 72 saves (with an additional 4 in the shootout) to give the Islanders wins over the Montreal Canadiens (4-3 in the shootout) and Pittsburgh Penguins (9-3). Those starts are the first time an Islanders rookie goaltender played a set of back-to-back games since Rick DiPietro did so on Feb. 24 and Feb. 25, 2001.

“He’s been great,” Isles center John Tavares said after Friday night’s game. “He’s had some games to prepare himself. I’m sure he’s feeling a lot better now than the way he was thrown in there against Toronto. You can see that he’s got so much potential.”

Isles goaltender Al Montoya is ready to play when he gets the nod, but Capuano may decide to play Koskinen in his fourth-straight game since he’s been playing so well.

Mikko Koskinen #1 of the New York Islanders makes a glove save in the second period as teammate Jack Hillen #38 and Jordan Staal #11 of the Pittsburgh Penguins look on on February 11, 2011 at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
nd Koskinen isn’t the only Islanders rookie on a tear. Michael Grabner scored two goals in the Islanders win over the Penguins and now lies second on the NHL’s rookie goal scoring leaders chart.

“I’m not trying to think about it at all. I’m trying to play my role here and help the team,” Grabner said. “Obviously I’m having a nice little run here and I hope that I can keep it going here with the same kind of pace. But really, I’m just trying to help out the team.”

While that’s impressive, Grabner also leads the entire NHL in goals scored this past month (beginning on Jan. 15) as he’s tallied 12 goals in the last 13 games.

“If he continues like this, for sure (he’ll be in the running for the Calder Trophy),” Grabner’s linemate Frans Nielsen said. “It’s a great story. It’s a pretty great pick-up by Garth (Snow). Nobody really knew him when he got in here, but he’s really showed what a great hockey player he is. It’s not only about his speed. He has a good shot and he can pass the puck. He’s a smart player. He plays the PK, he sees the game well and he’s a very good overall player.”

Grabner’s 21 goals this season ties Matt Moulson, who also scored two goals Friday night, for the team lead. John Tavares also recorded his 20th goal of the season.

“Not every guy scores 20 (goals) in the NHL so it’s a nice thing to have, but at the same sense, there are still 27 games to go and hopefully I can get a few more to help the team,” Grabner said.

Watching who was on the ice at the Islanders practice on Saturday morning, it was pretty telling about the activities in Friday night's game. For the most part, the Isles top two lines took the morning off, while it looked like the players that were ejected from the game were required to skate.

Players at the skate include forwards Frans Nielsen, Matt Martin, Josh Bailey, Jesse Joensuu, Michael Haley and Trevor Gillies; defensemen Ty Wishart, Travis Hamonic, Bruno Gervais, Milan Jurcina, Radek Martinek and Jack Hillen. Mikko Koskinen, Al Montoya and Nathan Lawson also participated in practice, but Koskinen tended his own net while Montoya and Lawson shared. Skaters who did not practice include Matt Moulson, John Tavares, PA Parenteau, Michael Grabner, Kyle Okposo and Andrew MacDonald.




1 x - MTL 77 47 22 8 203 174 102
2 x - NYR 75 47 21 7 228 177 101
3 x - TBL 77 47 23 7 249 201 101
4 PIT 76 42 23 11 210 190 95
5 NYI 77 45 27 5 235 215 95
6 DET 75 40 23 12 220 206 92
7 WSH 76 41 25 10 223 188 92
8 BOS 76 38 25 13 201 196 89
9 OTT 75 37 26 12 218 203 86
10 FLA 76 35 26 15 190 207 85
11 PHI 76 30 29 17 198 219 77
12 CBJ 75 36 35 4 207 232 76
13 NJD 76 31 33 12 168 194 74
14 CAR 75 28 36 11 174 204 67
15 TOR 76 28 42 6 198 244 62
16 BUF 76 21 47 8 148 255 50


J. Tavares 77 34 43 -2 77
R. Strome 76 16 32 20 48
K. Okposo 55 16 31 -11 47
F. Nielsen 76 14 28 8 42
B. Nelson 77 19 22 7 41
A. Lee 71 23 16 10 39
J. Bailey 65 15 23 3 38
J. Boychuk 67 8 25 9 33
N. Leddy 73 10 21 14 31
T. Hamonic 67 5 26 16 31
J. Halak 36 16 2 .913 2.42
C. Johnson 8 8 1 .889 3.08 is the official Web site of the New York Islanders Hockey Club, L.P. and are trademarks of New York Islanders Hockey Club, L.P.  NHL, the NHL Shield, the word mark and image of the Stanley Cup and NHL Conference logos are registered trademarks of the National Hockey League. All NHL logos and marks and NHL team logos and marks as well as all other proprietary materials depicted herein are the property of the NHL and the respective NHL teams and may not be reproduced without the prior written consent of NHL Enterprises, L.P. Copyright © 1999-2015 New York Islanders Hockey Club, L.P. and the National Hockey League. All Rights Reserved.

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