Massive Matchup on the Island
Sabres and Islanders face off Tuesday night with potential playoff implications on the line
Buffalo Sabres (32-26-4) vs. New York Islanders (32-25-8)
Puck Drop: 7:30 PM EST, 10:30 PM Mid Atlantic | UBS Arena | Elmont, NY
Radio: WGR 550
SB Nation Islanders Blog: Lighthouse Hockey
Know Your Opponent
New York Islanders
Last Game: 4-1 win vs. Red Wings
Division Ranking: 4th in Metropolitan Division
PP: 17.2% (28th)
PK: 82.3% (8th)
What to Watch
1. Quick Turnaround
The Sabres played well against the Oilers on Monday night and could’ve earned at least one if not two points, however Stuart Skinner came up big for Edmonton, only letting a pair of goals past him. While it was disappointing not coming away with anything as points are becoming increasingly important, Buffalo can’t allow previous games to get into their head, especially as many of their upcoming opponents are battling them for those last two wild card spots.
That happens to be the case tonight as the Sabres will head to UBS Arena to take on the Islanders, a team that currently holds one of those wild card spots in the Eastern Conference. Although four points back of New York, Buffalo also has three games in hand, so a victory tonight in regulation would be helpful to close the gap.
As opposed to the Sabres, who will be on a back-to-back and have already played three games in the month of March, the Islanders week has been less packed, only having played once in March so far. It will be interesting to see tonight how the schedule affects either team as rest can be beneficial, but also disrupt rhythm and chemistry that are crucial for the final stretch.
2. By the Numbers
While the Islanders have a very similar record to the Sabres this season and have an almost identical points percentage statistic, the two teams play a very different style of game.
Buffalo is much more flashy and driven by quick breakouts and transitions, while New York plays a tough, defensive style game, relying on battles down low to score goals. This is easy to notice on film, but is also obvious on paper as well, as both teams are in the top of the NHL in their respective categories. The Sabres are third in the league in GF/GP at 3.71, while the Islanders are fifth in the league in GA/GP at 2.65. This also translates to special teams, as Buffalo has the third best powerplay and New York has the eighth best penalty kill.
Anyone who watches Islanders games knows that most consider them to play a “boring” style of hockey, which speaks to why they give up so few goals, despite being in the bottom percent of the league in goals scored. If anyone wants to point fingers at the reason behind New York’s defensive success the past few years however, look no further than goalie Ilya Sorokin, who is in elite form at this point of his career. Currently third in the NHL in save percentage at 0.926% and fifth in GAA at 2.32, the Sabres will have to be at their ultimate best tonight to figure out the Isles netminder, who seems to be at his best almost every night. Buffalo will need to get out to a quick start on offense and not get sloppy in their own zone because if they fall behind early, there’s a good chance they won’t be able to catch up.
3. Lineup Shuffles
Both the Islanders and Sabres had an important player put on IR due to injury in Mat Barzal and Alex Tuch, creating a sizeable hole in the offense for both teams. The Islanders were able to pick up Bo Horvat and Pierre Engvall at the trade deadline, which helped to soften the blow of Barzal being out indefinitely. Engvall is a solid grinder type player who adds depth to New York’s roster, while Horvat has elite goal scoring talent, and has tallied 36 goals on the season so far (five in 13 GP with the Islanders) which is tied for 9th in the NHL.
As for Buffalo, they didn’t make as big of a splash around the deadline, but were able to acquire Jordan Greenway from Minnesota, who brings size and physicality to the Sabres lineup, something they consistently lack. Greenway’s arrival means that someone new will have to sit, and as Tyson Jost will return from a one-game absence, it’s likely that player will be JJ Peterka or Victor Olofsson.
As the Sabres held no morning skate before Tuesday’s game due to playing the night before, it was unclear who would get the start in net, although it seems likely to be either Luukkonen or Comrie. It also remains to be seen if either Mattias Samuelsson or Riley Stillman can return to the lineup from their minor injuries, as Buffalo’s defense pairings continue to get jumbled around.
Jeff Skinner - Tage Thompson - Jack Quinn
Casey Mittelstadt - Dylan Cozens - Vinnie Hinostroza
Jordan Greenway - Peyton Krebs - Victor Olofsson
Zemgus Girgensons - Tyson Jost - Kyle Okposo
Rasmus Dahlin - Kale Clague
Owen Power - Henri Jokiharju
Jacob Bryson - Ilya Lyubushkin
Goaltenders: Ukko Pekka Luukkonen (projected starter), Eric Comrie
Scratches: JJ Peterka, Craig Anderson, Lawrence Pilut
Injuries: Alex Tuch, Riley Stillman, Mattias Samuelsson
New York Islanders
Anders Lee - Bo Horvat - Pierre Engvall
Zach Parise - Brock Nelson - Kyle Palmieri
Matt Martin - Casey Cizikas - Hudson Fasching
Simon Holmstrom - Otto Koivula - Josh Bailey
Adam Pelech - Scott Mayfield
Alexander Romanov - Ryan Pulock
Sebastian Aho - Noah Dobson
Goaltenders: Ilya Sorokin (projected starter), Semyon Varlamov
Scratches: Ross Johnston, Parker Wotherspoon
Injuries: JG Pageau, Matthew Barzal, Cal Clutterbuck