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Intrastate Faceoff as Sabres Host Isles

Surging Sabres seek their 5th win in 6 games against the Islanders

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at New Jersey Devils Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Game 80

Buffalo Sabres (30-38-11) vs. New York Islanders (35-32-10)

Puck Drop: 12:30 PM | KeyBank Center | Buffalo, NY

TV: MSG-B

Radio: WGR 550

SB Nation Islanders Blog: Lighthouse Hockey

Know Your Opponent

New York Islanders Record: 35-32-10 | 80 PTS

Division Ranking: 5th in Metropolitan Division

PP: 18th (20.0%)

PK: 4th (84.3%)

What to Watch

1. All Aboard the Good Vibes Train

The last couple of months have certainly been a fun time to be a Sabres fan. There is optimism around the team and, more importantly, a belief within the locker room of a brighter future. They have been playing consistently well for the last 6 weeks, amassing 20 of 34 possible points in that span. They currently stand 5th in the Atlantic division with a 1-point lead on Detroit who does have one game in hand. Beyond the on-ice success, there seems to be genuine comradery in the locker room. Between the hilarious Flint Tropics uniforms at the Heritage Classic, spirted starting lineup announcements, and Alex Tuch’s patent pending “Whoa’s” as he exits the ice, they have clearly built a positive team culture. If they can carry this momentum into next season, the Sabres might transform their good vibes into a bullet train headed straight toward playoff contention.

2. Neutralized in Neutral Zone

As for the game at hand, the Sabres need to focus on getting through the Islander’s neutral zone trap. Under Barry Trotz, the Islanders have been known as a defense first team. Their primary strategy in achieving this is their ability to slow teams down as they transition through the neutral zone. Taking a page out of the early 2000’s Devils’ playbook, they employ a 1-3-1 neutral zone trap. This typically slows down teams as they break out of their zone and forces them to play dump and chase rather than utilizing a controlled break in. Buffalo likes to create chances off the rush and have at least one defenseman capable of joining the forwards on each defensive pair (Dahlin/Power/Bryson). The Sabres will need precise passing in transition to play their attacking style effectively. If that fails, they will need adhere to one of the oldest hockey cliches: get pucks in deep and go to work. Otherwise, the Islanders’ counterattacks may win the day.

3. Power’s Progress

Owen Power has continued to improve in each game he has played. The 19-year-old defensemen is becoming more comfortable with each passing day and is starting to take more offensive chances. He was rewarded last game against the Devils with his first NHL career goal after racing past the back checkers to turn Skinner’s 1 on 1 into an odd man rush. Rookie mistakes will happen, but Power has been solid in all three zones and has helped Jokiharju settle his game after an inconsistent season. Despite not having the offensive flair of Dahlin, Power continues to show a well-rounded defensive game and shows some excellent offensive instincts. Sabres fans will eagerly watch his continued development as he grows with Buffalo’s young defensive core. The early results are encouraging as he has two points in 5 games and the team has won 4 of those games.

Projected Lineups

Buffalo Sabres

Forwards

Skinner - Thompson - Olofsson

Krebs - Mittelstadt - Tuch

Asplund – Cozens – Okposo

Bjork - Girgensons – Hinostroza

Defense

Samuelsson - Dahlin

Power - Jokiharju

Bryson - Fitzgerald

Starter: Tokarski

Islanders

Forwards

Lee – Nelson – Bailey

Parise – Barzal – Palmeri

Wahlstrom – Koivula – Bellows

Martin - Cizikas - Johnston

Defense

Pelech – Pulock

Chara – Dobson

Aho - Greene

Starter: Sorokin