BROOKLYN – Kyle Okposo walked into Islanders' arena to smiles and handshakes. While Sabres fans are certainly glad to see him return to health, the emotions are much stronger in New York.
Okposo spent nine seasons with the Isles before joining Buffalo prior to last year. When word of his concussion-related hospitalization surfaced in April, the well-wishes poured in from Isles General Manager Garth Snow down to the casual New York observer.
"I was really touched by the support I received from the organization here, from all the guys, coaching staff, Garth," Okposo said Saturday in Barclays Center. "It was pretty special to me, and I'm just happy that it's behind me and I can move on and play hockey with no concerns."
Since Okposo is healthy again, New Yorkers can get down to one the Isles' most pressing issues: What's going to happen with captain John Tavares, who will be an unrestricted free agent after the season?
"Haha. Oh, guys," Okposo said with a laugh after a Tavares question.
Okposo has insight into the situation. Aside from being one of Tavares' best friends, he spent the 2015-16 season as a pending UFA. The Isles never made him an offer, and he signed a seven-year, $42 million deal with Buffalo.
"Johnny's obviously a good friend," Okposo said. "He's going to be a friend of mine for life. I'm not going to grill him too much on that.
"We've just talked and just making sure that he's doing OK with it mentally and giving him a little bit of advice because it's a tough thing when you're going through it. He's doing OK, and he's focused on winning games and being the best player that he can for the Islanders."
Okposo is taking the same approach with Buffalo.
"It's getting this team to the next step," he said. "We had a disappointing season last season, and obviously some shakeups over the summer. I'm excited for the guys that were brought in and the style of play that we're playing. It's a pretty exciting time for us.
"We've got to learn how to win. We've got to learn how to be a good team. That's our main focus."
New Sabres GM Jason Botterill was determined to increase competition for playing time. One of the guys feeling the effect is another former Islanders forward.
Matt Moulson made his debut Saturday after being the healthy scratch up front Thursday.
"There's always competition, and you've always got to be ready to go," Moulson said. "It's never fun to not play. You want to be out there. You want to win.
"In saying that, you can't sulk on the sidelines and not be ready. It's just putting in work and making sure you're ready to go."
Moulson skated in place of right wing Jordan Nolan. Part of the reason was Moulson's history of success against the Isles. He entered with six goals and eight points in 10 games against his old team.
"This was my home for a while," said Moulson, who played for New York from 2009 to 2013. "I still have a lot of love for them and this organization. It's always fun to play against an old team."
For some coaches, morning skates are becoming as rare as dressing enforcers. Columbus' John Tortorella, for instance, has done away with the pregame workouts completely.
Buffalo coach Phil Housley is 1 for 2. The Sabres had a morning skate before their season opener but bagged the workout Saturday.
The big reason was New York traffic. It's not easy to get from lower Manhattan to Brooklyn, which is what the Sabres had to do. At least during the early part of the season, Housley will hold morning workouts in other cities.
"I don't mind the morning skates," Housley said. "Obviously, it's early in the season. Once you start moving forward I think they become less and less effective.
"But in a situation like today, just the travel and trying to get to this arena is difficult. Instead of spending a lot of time on the bus, I wanted our guys to get that extra rest."