Where: Nassau Coliseum (Uniondale, N.Y.)
When: 1 p.m.
Radio: WGR 550.
Eichel watch: The points have come in bunches for Jack Eichel. His two goals Thursday night against Nashville moved him into second place in the NHL scoring race, only four behind Boston Bruins winger David Pastrnak for the league lead.
Eichel, the Sabres' 23-year-old captain, has 22 goals and needs only six more to match the career-high he set in 77 games last season. A goal or assist against the Islanders would extend Eichel's point streak to 16 games, which would be the longest in the NHL this season. During that span, Eichel leads the league in goals (14), points (27) and plus-minus (plus-18) while averaging 22:03 per game, the fourth-highest mark among forwards.
Eichel has eight points in his last seven games against the Islanders, including points in all three road games.
"The consistency he’s showing, it’s a lot more than just the play on the ice," Sam Reinhart said of Eichel on Thursday night. "It’s the leadership, it’s everything he’s putting into it and that’s saying a lot because you know he’s always put a lot into his game and he’s always been a heck of a player. He’s coming up huge for us and he did again (Thursday)."
Improvement: We might be seeing the best hockey Rasmus Ristolainen has played since he arrived in Buffalo. The 25-year-old defenseman has one goal among seven points with a plus-14 rating in his last seven games. His best work doesn't always show up on the stat sheet, though.
It was Ristolainen who skated toward the net Tuesday night against St. Louis to drag the Blues' defenders out of position, allowing Eichel to skate to the front of the net for the go-ahead goal. Ristolainen also made an exceptional pass on a goal Thursday night by Jimmy Vesey, who was shouting for the puck while driving to the net.
“He’s just been adding so many things to the game," Krueger said of Ristolainen. "If you look at the 3-2 goal of Jack (against St. Louis), his drive to the back of the net actually creates the chaos for them and they overcheck and let Jack have that space. It’s little things like that that Risto’s adding here and there that make him a special player for us and of course, defensively he’s working hard. He’s been very active in the group and a leader in his own way game in and game out.”
Lineup: Coach Ralph Krueger will dress 12 forwards and six defensemen Saturday against the New York Islanders, though he declined to reveal whom he will scratch. Defenseman Zach Bogosian, who has reportedly requested a trade, and forwards Casey Mittelstadt and Conor Sheary were healthy scratches Thursday night against the Nashville Predators.
Islanders coach Barry Trotz also declined to reveal his lineup.
"They've been really strong," Trotz said of the Sabres. "I think Jack Eichel is probably a MVP candidate. They've been playing well. I think they're 5-1-3 in their last nine and they're averaging about four goals a game, so they're going offensively. They've got good commitment, they're a deep team, getting goaltending."
Here's how the Sabres lined up at practice Friday in LECOM Harborcenter:
Some quick #Sabres forward line run-thrus. This is gonna be a short practice before the plane to NY with a Sat. matinee.
— Mike Harrington (@ByMHarrington) December 13, 2019
Goalies: Linus Ullmark will start in goal for the Sabres for the 11th time in 14 games. His .923 save percentage since Nov. 23 ranks third in the NHL among all goalies to start at least eight games during that span. Ullmark has won six of those games, including three in a row. Carter Hutton, meanwhile, has started only one game since Dec. 1 and has lost each of his last nine starts.
"He's just such a good character and he works hard," Krueger said of Hutton. "He's backing and cheering for the team when he doesn't play as much as anybody. There's no extra work there. We do the same thing every day. We look at how many minutes somebody has played and we train accordingly, off the ice, on the ice, practices. Mike Bales is in charge of making sure both goalies are ready every day to play and they are. There's nothing out of the ordinary we have to do with Carter Hutton or a defenseman that hasn't played. It's the same process."
Familiar challenge: A fluke goal by Derick Brassard was all the Islanders needed to defeat the Sabres, 1-0, in KeyBank Center on Nov. 2. Buffalo allowed only 21 shots on goal, but it could not generate enough scoring chances. The Sabres aren't the only team to struggle against the Islanders.
Coach Barry Trotz's defensive-zone structure has allowed a league-best 70 goals through 30 games. The Dallas Stars (74) are the only other team in the NHL to allowed fewer than 80 goals this season. The Islanders allowed 31.7 shots per game, which ranks 17th in the league, and they've allowed the seventh-most high-danger scoring chances, according to NaturalStatTrick.com.
"There’s a lot of what they’re doing that we’re still striving for, and I think that game 15 against the Islanders, the first period was actually one of the best in the season until then, I watched it this morning," Krueger said Friday of the Islanders. "Then we got away from our game. We got complicated and we had turnovers and they punished us and they out-chanced and they deserved to win even though it was 1-0 in the end."