Rough schedule: The Sabres are in their first true rough patch of the season, so it's bad timing that they will be seeing the NHL's hottest team on the other side of the ice.
Friday's 6-1 loss at Washington gave the Sabres back-to-back defeats for the first time this season and dropped them to 1-2-1 in their last four games. Conversely, the Islanders' 5-2 win Friday night against Tampa Bay gave Barry Trotz's team eight straight wins after a 1-3 start.
A win tonight would give the Islanders their longest winning streak in nearly 30 years, since a nine-gamer from Dec. 31, 1989, to Jan. 19, 1990. The Isles have outscored opponents, 30-16, during the eight-game run.
"One of the big helpers for creating an identity is having a bad night," Sabres coach Ralph Krueger said after meeting with his players today. "It's not fun when you're in it and it's an excellent confirmation of what we need to do. We're expecting quite a reaction tonight overall from the way we played yesterday."
Lineup moves: Brandon Montour will make his season debut on the Buffalo defense and Jimmy Vesey will return to the lineup after missing the last three games with an upper-body injury. John Gilmour and Evan Rodrigues will sit as healthy scratches.
Krueger wasn't giving up line combinations or defense pairs, which makes you wonder if the Sabres' relatively stable lineup over the first 14 games is going to get a shakeup tonight.
"We've got a few things in our minds right that you'll see," Krueger said. "We're going to keep that close to us."
Dahlin's difficulties: Rasmus Dahlin is minus-5 over his last four games and has been struggling mightily in the defensive zone. If the team wasn't a day away from leaving for Sweden, there's certainly some thought he'd be worthy of being a healthy scratch for the first time in his career. Krueger is forging ahead with the 19-year-old.
"He's a very coachable player who has to go through a learning curve. It's much more difficult to be a mature defenseman than a mature forward," Krueger said. "It's the pressure of the game in your own end and the opposition like last night in Washington, they're among the best in the world.
"To play that side of the puck is something that gives our coaching room a purpose and a reason to be here. That's our job and we enjoy doing it with Rasmus and he's going to come out of this being one of the best defensemen in the league."
In the nets: Carter Hutton (6-1-1, 2.21/.926) will get the nod for the Sabres tonight after Linus Ullmark was torched in Washington, giving up four goals in the first 10 minutes. Semyon Varlamov (4-2, 2.53/.918) is expected to start for the Islanders after Thomas Greiss made 33 saves Friday night. Neither Varlamov nor Gress have started consecutive games this season.
Super 70s: Tonight's game is '70s Night, the first of the Sabres' five decade nights planned as part of their 50th anniversary celebration. The first 10,000 fans will receive a 1970s-themed Sabres pennant. Alumni will greet fans in the 100 Level, where there will also be a memorabilia display courtesy of Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame archivist John Boutet.
Look for a new pregame video presentation and on-ice recognition for the '70s alums and longtime equipment manager Rip Simonick. The list of attendees includes former players and broadcasters Jim Lorentz and Mike Robitaille, as well as Gerry Meehan, John Gould, Rene Robert, Don Luce, Larry Carriere, Rick Dudley, Jim Schoenfeld, Jerry Korab, Bill Hajt, Paul McIntosh, Morris Titanic, Gerry Desjardins, Fred Stanfield, Danny Gare, Terry Martin, Derek Smith, Don Edwards, Ric Seiling and Tony McKegney.
Home cooking: The Sabres are 5-0-1 at home and join Boston (5-0-1) and Vancouver (4-0-1) as the only teams without a regulation loss. The only point to date they've dropped downtown came in Monday's shootout loss to Arizona. In KeyBank Center, the Sabres have a plus-11 goal differential (25-14). Jack Eichel's 14 points at home (6-8-14) are tied for the NHL lead with Toronto's Auston Matthews and the Edmonton duo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. The Sabres also have the NHL's top power play at home (8-21, 38.1%).
"In the KeyBank Center, we feel powerful, we feel strong and excited," Krueger said this week. "And we're going to do everything to maintain the strong home presence."
Bizarro back-to-backs: This is the Sabres' third set of back-to-back games this season. They're 0-3 in the first game of each – but 2-0 in the second game, posting shutouts in each (Hutton at Los Angeles and Ullmark at Detroit).