Share this article

print logo

Sabres Notebook: With Okposo still out, Smith will make his NHL debut

Dan Bylsma wasn't specific but he was definite.

Kyle Okposo would not be in the Buffalo Sabres lineup for Sunday's game against the New York Islanders in KeyBank Center.

"Not possible," the Sabres' head coach said when asked if Okposo was a possibility for the game.

Okposo did not play Tuesday in Columbus, a late scratch due to illness. The Sabres had two off days and two practices since. Okposo was not on the ice for either practice.

"Kyle is sick and ill right now and hasn’t really recovered from it at this point in time. He's under the weather," Bylsma said.

That means C.J. Smith will make his NHL debut. The 22-year-old signed a two-year deal with the Sabres on Thursday after his junior season at UMass-Lowell ended with a regional overtime loss to Notre Dame.

"It's going to be a real good opportunity for him to show what he can do," Bylsma said of Smith. "We've seen him the last two days in practice and he's got some speed and jump to his game. I really kind of noted his puck skills and his tenaciousness on the puck. He's not a big guy and he's not going to be fooling anyone out there with his size, but I've liked the way in practices that he's competed on pucks and been tenacious on pucks and I think that is a big part of his game."

Smith practiced on a line with Brian Gionta and Evan Rodrigues, two former Hockey East stars as Gionta played for Boston College and Rodrigues played with Jack Eichel at Boston University. Smith said there was some good-natured ribbing from Eichel, whose Terriers beat UMass-Lowell three times in the 2014-15 season.

Smith said Eichel was "joking around in the locker room, just keeping it light, just being friendly about it. So it was a good chance to meet him and talk to him about it."


The Islanders will come to town without their captain. The team announced on Saturday that John Tavares "is week to week with a lower-body injury."

Tavares suffered a hamstring injury Friday night in the Islanders' 2-1 win over the New Jersey Devils in Barclays Center. He was battling for the puck behind the New Jersey net and tried to avoid Devils' defenseman Steven Santini but fell to the ice while holding his left leg with 3:14 left in the game. Tavares needed the help of two teammates to get to the locker room.

"It's a big blow," Islanders' coach Doug Weight told the media after Friday's game. "Anytime you see your best player go down, and obviously he was in some distress, but these guys have been around. Injuries happen. It's not fun, but it gives somebody a chance, right? It's going to give some more minutes to throw around, some big challenges at a good time of the year. We've got to win a game on Sunday.

"The morale will be fine. It's nothing you want to deal with, but it happens in a game."

The Islanders are four points out of a Wild Card playoff spot with five games remaining.


The special teams units have put up some good numbers for the Sabres lately. In its last 21 games, Buffalo has killed off 87.5 percent of penalties (49 for 56). During March, the Sabres went 15 for 36 on the power play (41.7 percent) including going 7 for 10 in their last five games.


Recent history would predict a tight game on Sunday. Fourteen of the last 19 games between the Sabres and Islanders have been decided by a single goal. But when these teams last met (on Dec. 23), the Islanders scored a 5-1 win in New York.

There are no comments - be the first to comment