BROOKLYN – Kyle Okposo spent just one year playing in Brooklyn, but he spent nine seasons on Long Island. As he rode the Sabres’ bus to the Islanders’ arena Friday, he spotted familiar places.
“Both my kids were born here and I grew up here,” Okposo said. “I really did.”
While he remembered the good times during his first trip back since signing with Buffalo, he also recalled the tough moments.
“Playing in New York, you can face some scrutiny,” the left winger said in Barclays Center. “When you have good times, they’re definitely going to be behind you. For me, my game was up and down early in my career. I’ve got to give them a lot of credit. They stuck by me.
“The last few years that I was here, I started to be a lot more consistent and play well. They were really loud and supportive and stuck by us as a group and a team and me personally. I just want to say thanks to the fans for being there for me.”
The fans thanked him with a standing ovation during a first-period commercial break as a tribute video played on the scoreboard.
Okposo became one of the Isles’ most consistent players the past three seasons, which is why Buffalo pounced on the unrestricted free agent. Much like Okposo’s younger days, inconsistencies have arisen for the 28-year-old and his team.
The Sabres entered the game against the Islanders with a 12-12-8 record. Okposo and linemate Jack Eichel were among Buffalo’s most prolific point producers. Neither, however, had reached the score sheet in the previous three games, part of a four-game absence for Eichel.
“I don’t think it’s Jack, honestly,” Okposo said. “He took control of the game last game, had seven shots on goal. I’ve got to be better personally. The last few games for me haven’t been very good. I want to get back to being better support for him.
“You’re going to have some ups and downs in your career when you’re young, but he’s a special player. He’s going to get through it, and I’m going to help him get through it. We just have to play better as a team, and I think that’s going to help everybody out.”
Coach Dan Bylsma has seen frustration in both players, with Okposo feeling the weight of being a prized addition.
“Working to come through, but not there,” Bylsma said. “He’s been pressing a little bit. You can see it and feel it in his game. He’s a big part of our team, a big part of our offense, and he has to be a part of the team and not push and press.
“We can’t cheat and force it on one end to give up on the other end. Kyle just has to play his game for us to have success.”
Regardless of slumps, Okposo has had a positive impact during his first months with Buffalo.
“A big part of Kyle and his addition to our team has been his leadership,” Bylsma said. “It’s just his presence. He’s been a guy who plays the game the right way and demands it of people around him. That’s been huge for us.”
Former Islanders goaltender Anders Nilsson started against his old team. The Sabres netminder appeared for the second time in Buffalo’s last seven games.
Nilsson entered the rink with a 5-3-2 record and .933 save percentage. He was 9-9-2 with a .898 save percentage during parts of two seasons with the Islanders from 2011 to 2014.
“My recollection of Anders is as an Islander and playing against him and seeing him in the net,” Bylsma said. “He’s ventured down the road a few times since then, but he’s kind of come into his own here for us and playing real strong.”
The Islanders’ transition from Uniondale to Brooklyn continues. New York holds its morning skates less than two miles from Nassau Coliseum, then makes the 30-mile drive to Barclays Center for the game.
“We figured it out halfway through the year last year, the routine that works best,” Okposo said. “Definitely a little longer than most teams, but they figured it out. It’s just the way it is.”