After a hard-fought overtime loss at home to the division-rival New Jersey Devils last night, the Islanders are right back at it tonight in Buffalo, where they will face off with the Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres, who lost 3-2 to the Islanders last week, will look to avenge that loss and get on track after a 1-3-0 start through four games. Meanwhile, the Islanders will look to stay hot to start the season, salvaging a point last night in a game where they allowed four (!) power-play goals to start the season 2-0-1.
Last night, the Islanders uncharacteristically allowed four power play goals to the Devils, which usually foreshadows a long night for the viewers. Fortunately, the Islanders, led by their 1-2 punch up the middle of Bo Horvat and Brock Nelson, were able to take the game to overtime and gain a point. Nelson, who continues to get better and better each game, scored two critical goals early, and Horvat scored two important goals later on, including the game-tying goal with 1:11 remaining in regulation. The two goals from Horvat are especially promising since the Islanders are unlikely to go anywhere without Horvat contributing offensively.
With Ilya Sorokin starting every game so far for the Islanders, tonight feels like the perfect opportunity to get Semyon Varlamov a start. Varlamov, who signed a four-year contract extension with the Islanders this off-season, is expected to face his former Buffalo team on the road after Sorokin hung on last night to get the Isles to overtime and give them a chance at two points. Varlamov's ability to keep Sorokin fresh will be another huge factor this season since the Islanders will go only as far as their MVP goaltender can take them.
Another thing to look for: tonight seems like a suitable opportunity to get at least one of the fourth-line wingers a night off. Look for the possibility of Julien Gauthier drawing in for the first time tonight, likely with JG Pageau and Anders Lee, which would push Hudson Fasching down to Casey Cizikas's right flank. Meanwhile, Scott Mayfield remains out, though the Isles are fortunate that Sebastian Aho has had a terrific start to the season and has been a bright spot through three games.
As mentioned in last week's preview, the Islanders have had recent success against the Sabres, going 14-6-2 against Buffalo over the last five seasons. When you factor in the way the Islanders methodically took care of the Sabres last Saturday, it would seem that the young upstarts in Buffalo still have some more to learn about grinding out a tight defensive battle - something these Islanders are better at than perhaps any other team in the league. Alternatively, the Sabres can open up a game offensively that the Islanders do not possess. It becomes crucial that Varlamov- the Isles' likely starter tonight- is sharp and keeps pucks out of the net early so that the Islanders are not chasing the game.
Players to Watch
NYI: Semyon Varlamov. As the Islanders enter the second game of a back-to-back, they'll likely be running without a full tank. It does not help that the Devils (last night's opponent) are one of the fastest teams in the league. It is crucial that the Islanders not run out of steam against a quick Sabres team. The last line of defense for a tired team on a back-to-back? The goaltender. A strong performance from Varlamov in net would provide the team a huge boost coming off a frustrating OTL on Long Island last night.
BUF: Rasmus Dahlin. The newly-extended star defenseman has emerged over the last calendar year as one of the most valuable defensemen in the world. After putting up 73 points last season and earning an $88M contract extension, Dahlin is now riding a three-game point streak and has picked up right where he left off last season. He may have even improved further. For the Sabres to take advantage of a tired Islanders team that revels in slowing their opponent down, they will need their smooth-skating star defender to make it happen offensively and put the Isles on their heels.
Mathew Barzal - Bo Horvat - Simon Holmstrom
Pierre Engvall - Brock Nelson - Kyle Palmieri
Anders Lee - JG Pageau - Hudson Fasching
Matt Martin - Casey Cizikas - Cal Clutterbuck
Adam Pelech - Noah Dobson
Alexander Romanov - Ryan Pulock
Samuel Bolduc - Sebastian Aho
Jordan Greenway - Tage Thompson - Dylan Cozens
Jeff Skinner - Casey Mittelstadt - Alex Tuch
John Jason Peterka - Tyson Jost - Victor Olofsson
Zemgus Girgensons - Peyton Krebs - Kyle Okposo
Rasmus Dahlin - Mattias Samuelsson
Owen Power - Henri Jokiharju
Connor Clifton - Erik Johnson
Lines courtesy of Daily Faceoff