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Sabres' Christmas wish: Head to holiday on winning streak

During a recent talk with the team, Sabres coach Dan Bylsma ditched the “one game at a time” routine. He knew Buffalo’s run to the Christmas break was a crucial stretch, and he wanted the players to know it.

They know it.

“You kind of break the season down at times into segments and patches and pieces,” defenseman Josh Gorges said Thursday. “We know what our last few games are like heading into the break.”

Buffalo will play five games in eight days leading up to Christmas, and all the meetings will have an impact on the Eastern Conference standings:

*The 15th-place Sabres will host the 16th-place New York Islanders on Friday in KeyBank Center. The Sabres have 28 points, while the Isles had 27 heading into Thursday night’s home game against Chicago.

*The Sabres will visit 11th-place Carolina on Saturday. The Hurricanes have 30 points, two more than the Sabres, with one extra game played.

*Buffalo will visit 12th-place Florida on Tuesday. The Panthers have 30 points but have played two more games than the Sabres.

*The Hurricanes come to Buffalo next Thursday.

*The Sabres visit the Islanders next Friday.

A run of victories would push the Sabres up at their competitors’ expense. A slump would be troublesome heading into the holiday.

“We really looked at these six games before the break for us to really bear down and focus here,” Bylsma said after practice in HarborCenter.

The Sabres head into the stretch feeling good after a 6-3 victory over Los Angeles on Tuesday. Beating L.A. is one thing. Taking care of the teams nearby is more important.

“We want to keep going here,” Bylsma said. “Yes, you can look at our opponents – Carolina twice and the New York Islanders twice – but it’s really just a stretch of time in the season where we really have to bear down, get some wins here and try to get on a roll.”

Teams across the Eastern Conference are rolling. Philadelphia (10 straight), Pittsburgh (seven), Columbus (seven) and Washington (five) have combined to win 29 games in a row.

“It’s important that we start rattling wins off,” center Jack Eichel said. “It seems like every other team’s doing it right now, so we’ve got to stay in the hunt.”

The Sabres’ longest winning streak is three straight from Oct. 29-Nov. 1. Since then, they are 7-8-4.

“It’s tough to gain ground when you win one, lose one; win two, lose two,” Gorges said. “We’ve got to start stringing some games together.”

The victory over Los Angeles gave the Sabres a 4-2-1 record since Eichel returned. They’ve averaged 3.3 goals per game during the stretch compared to 1.8 with the center injured. The offense has a chance to keep it up.

The Islanders, Hurricanes and Panthers are in the middle of the pack for goals allowed. New York had allowed the 11th most heading into Thursday’s games. Carolina and Florida were tied for 14th.

One player those teams will need to contain is Kyle Okposo. The Sabres right winger has four goals and 11 points in the last 10 games. In addition to wanting victories, he’ll have a personal stake in two of the conference meetings.

Friday’s game will be his first against the Islanders after spending the opening nine years of his career with the team. Next Friday’s game will be his first trip back to New York.

“It’s going to be fun,” Okposo said. “I’m excited to play these guys. I still talk to quite a few of them. It’s going to be weird playing them, but once you get into the game it will be fun.

“I played with a lot of those guys for a long time. They know my tendencies, I know their tendencies, so that part of it will be a bit of a chess match. I’m looking forward to it.”

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