Tonight’s game will be the only meeting this season at Nassau Coliseum between the Islanders and Sabres. The snow storm battering the East Coast right now might mean low attendance, but there will surely be a few diehard fans braving the conditions.
Tell Me A Story: Take your pick. Lubomir Visnovsky will be making his Isles debut, granted he doesn’t come down with some mysterious illness beforehand; Josh Bailey was reported to be making his way back into the lineup for this game as well; and, of course, Brad Boyes faces off against a team he played bottom-six minutes for last year. The winger has three goals and seven points this year to date.
Last Year: The teams split the season series right down the middle, each winning one road and one home game. The Isles took the first half, winning 2-1 on Nov. 29, 2011 and 4-2 on Jan. 14, 2012; the Sabres rallied back with 4-3 and 2-1 wins in February 2012. These teams meet twice this month and don’t see each other again until April.
Sabres: Road team’s up first, and they’re not faring much better than the Isles are right now. The team vacillates between pummeling and being pummeled almost on a nightly basis, but finally broke a three-game losing streak with a hard-fought 5-4 shootout win in Montreal. (snort.) Still, they’ve got a fair bit of ground to make up, tied with the Isles in points but sitting back four places behind them in the Eastern Conference.
Thomas Vanek is the one to watch tonight. The Austrian center is on a tear, leading the league in goals with 10 and points with 21. He’s managed two five-point games this year as well, so the Isles will need to keep an eye on him. As addressed earlier, these games are a lot tighter than they seem, in part because each offense is either anemic or manages to explode all at once (remember the 7-6 overtime win in February of ’11? Yeah.)
Islanders: Home wins have become a sort of unicorn. The Isles only have one win on Coliseum ice this year, which is definitely a problem considering they have nine games on it this month. Something has to click soon, and that something is directly related to offense – The Isles are 4-0-1 when scoring at least four goals, and 0-5-0 when scoring two or fewer (fun fact: they haven’t scored exactly three goals at all yet). They’ve scored just seven goals in their four home games, which averages to fewer than two per game. There has to be a collective stepping-up tonight when it comes to forechecking, getting loose pucks and finishing plays.
There was a lot of disappointment going around the locker room on Thursday night in the city, and much of it had to do with the power play which has gone 9-for-43 so far, and was 0-for-5 against the Rangers. Lubomir Visnovsky is going to try and fix that, or so Jack Capuano hopes. The penalty kill is third in the league at around 89 percent, but they’ll have to stop giving up a goal per game on the opposing man-advantage.
Goalies: Likely to be Ryan Miller against Evgeni Nabokov. Each has been under siege for their respective teams in the past few games, but right now they look to be the best options.
Injuries: Andrej Sekera (lower body) might be back in the lineup tonight, while Patrick Kaleta remains day-to-day. For the Isles, it’s just Matt Carkner on IR, while Josh Bailey looks to be a game-time decision.
Just So You Know: Game time remains 7 p.m. despite inclement weather. Nemo won’t slow these guys down.