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Sabres vs. Islanders preview: C.J. Smith debuts

With Kyle Okposo out sick again, the Sabres will see a new face take the ice against the Islanders.

NHL: New York Islanders at Buffalo Sabres Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Game #78

Buffalo Sabres (32-33-12) vs. New York Islanders (36-29-12)

Puck Drop: 3:00 p.m. EST | KeyBank Center | Buffalo, NY

TV: MSG | Radio: WGR 550

SB Nation’s Blue Islanders Blog: Lighthouse Hockey

Three Questions

1. How will recent signee C.J. Smith look in his Sabres debut?

Smith was signed earlier last week as a college free agent from UMass-Lowell, and will start on the third line alongside Evan Rodrigues and Brian Gionta. He’s billed by the team as 5’11 and 185 pounds, so it will be interesting to see how he physically handles the transition from college straight to the NHL.

Here’s what Bylsma had to say watching Smith in practice this week:

"We've seen him the last two days in practice, the last two practices. He's got some speed and jump to his game, agility. I think we've really kind of noted his puck skills and his tenaciousness on the puck. He's not a big guy and he's not going to be fooling anyone out there with his size but I've liked the way in the practices he's competed on pucks and been tenacious on pucks and think that's going to be a big part of his game."

Congrats to the kid, now go out and prove you deserve to play in Buffalo next year instead of Rochester.

2. Now that Ristolainen is back, will the Sabres defense be bad again?

According to the internet, Ristolainen is bad, because graphs. Without him, the Sabres embattled defense played...fairly well, all things considered. Dmitry Kulikov stepped up with a few rare points, and call-up Brady Austin held his own in limited minutes.

But now Risto is back, and will likely take back his all-situations 27 minutes of ice time from those guys, as he partners with Jake McCabe.

3. Which team will need their missing offensive star more?

Kyle Okposo is still sick and is expected to miss another game, and the Sabres will certainly miss his offensive firepower. But I bet the Islanders will miss John Tavares more. Tavares was listed as week-to-week with a lower body injury, and his departure from the lineup leaves a big hole for the Islanders, who are clinging to slim playoff hopes as they hope to win out and get some help along the way.

Projected Buffalo Lines

Evander Kane -- 90 Ryan O'Reilly -- 63 Tyler Ennis
82 Marcus Foligno -- 15 Jack Eichel -- 23 Sam Reinhart
49 C.J. Smith -- 71 Evan Rodrigues -- 12 Brian Gionta
48 William Carrier -- 28 Zemgus Girgensons -- 26 Matt Moulson

29 Jake McCabe 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
77 Dmitry Kulikov -- 47 Zach Bogosian
Josh Gorges -- 41 Justin Falk

Goal: 40 Robin Lehner