UNIONDALE – It's a throwback night for the Buffalo Sabres and a big look to the future for the New York Islanders when the teams meet tonight at 7 in NYCB Live Nassau Coliseum, the name of the renovated home of the Islanders from 1972-2015.
The Sabres are here for the first time in nearly four years, since a 3-0 loss on April 4, 2015. The Islanders, meanwhile, are trying to clinch an unlikely playoff berth here in a season where everyone wrote them off because captain John Tavares left for Toronto in free agency.
The Islanders are 11-6-2 at the Coliseum and 12-6-2 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. They will play their first-round playoff games on Long Island before transferring the rest of their postseason to Brooklyn.
— Mike Harrington (@ByMHarrington) March 30, 2019
The Islanders have won three of their last four games, including Thursday's 5-4 comeback win in Winnipeg, and are 8-5 in their last 13.
The Sabres, meanwhile, enter tonight's game 0-4-1 in their last five, 1-8-1 in their last 10, 1-10-2 in their last 13 and 3-15-3 in their last 21. Their record since their 10-game winning streak ended on Nov. 29 is an NHL-worst 14-30-8.
Here are Five Things to Know about tonight's game:
1. The lineup: Carter Hutton (17-23-5, 2.98/.909) will start in goal for the Sabres and the Islanders, who generally don't make it clear who is starting, are expected to go with former Buffalo goalie Robin Lehner (23-12-5, 2.22/.926), who has split two meetings against his old team this season. Jake McCabe skated today but Evan Rodrigues did not and both remain day to day. Vladimir Sobotka has tweaked an upper-body injury and did not skate so Zemgus Girgensons will switch to center tonight.
#Sabres AM skate:
(h/t to the better eyes of @pham1717, even as he continues to mourn Iowa State BB)
— Mike Harrington (@ByMHarrington) March 30, 2019
2. What's at stake: The Islanders come into the game with 97 points. They're three behind Washington for the Metro Division lead and two ahead of Pittsburgh in the battle to stay in second place and keep home ice advantage in the playoffs. They will clinch a playoff berth if they win in any fashion, or if they get one point and Montreal loses at Winnipeg in any fashion, or if the Canadiens lose in regulation regardless of the result here tonight.
"Pittsburgh is breathing down the Islanders' neck so they've got a lot to play for and we've got a lot to prove as a group," coach Phil Housley said today. "Especially with our young players. It's going to be a great atmosphere, it's going to be a great test for our guys tonight."
3. Welcome back: Longtimer former Islander Kyle Okposo spoke to reporters in an arena hallway after the morning skate and pointed out how the renovations now have the visitors dressing where the Islanders used to.
"I played a lot of soccer in this hallway," a smiling Okposo said as he greeted the media. "It's a little different. I never thought I'd play here again and here I am. Pretty cool. A lot of good memories here. It will be a fun game tonight. The bones of the place you can tell are still here but everything visually is completely different."
Housley played a 20-year NHL career coming through this building and said the walk from the adjacent Marriott hotel to the morning skate was eerie and brought him back to his playing days.
"It's the same nostalgic building," Housley said. "There was a lot of success here early in the 80s. It was always a great experience coming in this building especially when it was rocking."
"Talking to a few guys that have already played here, they said it's just been rockin at the 'Coli' every night," Okposo said. "So a Saturday night here with a chance to clinch, that's going to be loud so we're going to have to be ready."
4. The road not taken: I checked in with Benny Ercolani, the NHL's longtime chief statistician, to get some clarity on the Sabres' road losing streaks, and he pointed out the club record for the longest road drought is 12 games, set in 2011-12.
Since the advent of overtime in 1983 and the shootout in 2005, the league differentiates between losing streaks and winless streaks, just like it did when ties were played. Games decided in OT or shootouts are not listed under losing streaks because the losing team gets a point. Instead, they are part of winless streaks.
The bottom line is this: The Sabres are currently on a five-game road losing streak, dating to their shootout loss March 7 in Chicago. But they're on a 13-game road winless streak (0-11-2) and have not won since Jan. 29 in Columbus. The franchise record in that category is 23 games (0-15-8), set from Oct. 30, 1971-Feb. 19, 1972.
5. By the numbers: Tonight's game opens the Sabres' final back-to-back of the season as they host Columbus Sunday in KeyBank Center. Buffalo is 7-7-1 in the first game of a back-to-back and 6-7-2 in the second game. ... The Sabres are one of four teams to have played an NHL-high 22 games that have extended past regulation and their 12 wins are one behind Tampa Bay for the league league. Buffalo is 7-7 in overtime after Thursday's loss to Detroit and 5-3 in shootouts. ... Captain Anders Lee leads the Islanders with 28 goals while reigning Calder Trophy winner Mathew Barzal is the leader in assists (43) and points (61).