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Five Things to Know as Sabres host New York Islanders

The Sabres are closing a five-game homestand. They're looking for their first victory.

Here Five Things to Know as Buffalo hosts the New York Islanders on Thursday in KeyBank Center.

1. Changes up front

Sabres coach Phil Housley is once again changing his lines. The new first line features a college reunion.

Erstwhile center Evan Rodrigues is moving to left wing to skate with center Jack Eichel and right wing Sam Reinhart. Rodrigues and Eichel played on the same line at Boston College when Eichel won the Hobey Baker Award as college hockey's top player in 2015.

"Obviously, playing with a guy with that kind of skill and that kind of ability is always fun," Rodrigues said after the morning skate. "I'm looking forward to it."

Johan Larsson is returning from a two-game suspension and will center for left wing Zemgus Girgensons and right wing Jason Pominville. Ryan O'Reilly will skate between Evander Kane and Kyle Okposo. Jacob Josefson will be flanked by Benoit Pouliot and Jordan Nolan.

Scott Wilson will be the scratch.

2. Changes on the back end

Jake McCabe underwent thumb surgery that will sideline him for up to a month, so one pair was changing out of necessity. An additional move can be looked at as a demotion for Rasmus Ristolainen and a promotion for Casey Nelson.

Nelson will skate with Marco Scandella on the top pair. Ristolainen will be paired with Nate Beaulieu, while Josh Gorges will skate with Victor Antipin. Justin Falk will be scratched.

McCabe joined Zach Bogosian on the long-term injured list.

"It's difficult, but that's just where we're at right now," Housley said. "It gives other guys an opportunity to get in the lineup."

Sabres' McCabe has thumb surgery, will miss up to a month

3. Last chance

The Sabres went 0-3-1 in their opening four games of their homestand. They've dropped five straight at home and are just 6-15-4 downtown. They head to Boston after the game for a meeting with the Bruins on Saturday.

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4. Hot but not winning

Sabres goaltender Robin Lehner will start for the sixth time in seven games. The opening five starts had fine moments.

The goalie has stopped 149 of 156 shots during the five games. Despite that .955 save percentage, Lehner is just 2-2-1.

5. Rookie watch

The leading candidate for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year will be on the opposing bench. Forward Mathew Barzal has 16 goals and 53 points in 54 games for the Islanders. The 20-year-old has two five-point games, joining Hockey Hall of Famer Bryan Trottier as the only Islanders rookies to accomplish the feat.

John Tavares leads the Islanders with 27 goals and 59 points. Josh Bailey has 44 assists and 57 points. Anders Lee is tied with Tavares with 27 goals.

The Islanders are third in the NHL with 178 goals. They've also given up the most with 196.

"They've got some injuries on the back end," Housley said of injuries to Johnny Boychuk and Calvin de Haan. "One area that we have to look at it is their defense. It's pretty banged up back there and they've been giving up a lot of shots the last three games, somewhere around 47-48 shots. It's just telling our guys to have that shot mentality and try to create offense that way."

Sabres' Housley shows proof that net-front presence works

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