The Buffalo Sabres haven't fared well in two games without their top goaltender, but they might miss their leading scorer even more.
Trying to improve their position in the Eastern Conference playoff race, the Sabres look to avoid a third straight defeat Saturday night when they meet a New York Islanders team that's proved tough to beat at home lately.
A 2-1 shootout loss at Carolina on Thursday night dropped the Sabres (31-24-7) into an eighth-place tie with the Hurricanes in the East. While Buffalo got inspired play from backup goalie Patrick Lalime, it failed to produce offensively for a second straight game.
Despite battling the flu, Lalime stopped 31 shots in his second straight start in place of Ryan Miller, who suffered a high ankle sprain Feb. 21 in a 4-2 win over the New York Rangers.
"Sometimes when you're feeling your worst, you play your best," coach Lindy Ruff said. "It gets you in a little bit more of a relaxed state. That's a heck of an effort for not practicing yesterday and being run down. It was great to see."
If Lalime is still ill, Ruff could give a first career start to Jhonas Enroth, who was recalled after Miller's injury.
Ruff, though, may be more concerned with his team's scoring woes. After registering 11 goals in its previous three games, Buffalo has scored three times in its last two and faces its first three-game skid since Dec. 20-26.
The Sabres, however, may play their last game without Thomas Vanek on Saturday. Vanek, who could return as soon as next week, has missed the past eight games after surgery for a broken jaw, which he suffered after taking a slap shot to the face Feb. 7 at Ottawa.
Without Vanek's team-leading 32 goals, the Sabres have dropped five of their last eight, and missed an opportunity Thursday when Jason Pominville's shootout attempt hit the crossbar and the Hurricanes' Jussi Jokinen banked a shot off the post past Lalime.
Despite a league-worst 43 points, the Islanders (18-36-7) are 5-1-2 in their last eight at home and could look to an improved Yann Danis on Saturday to stop a two-game slide.
While New York is one of three NHL teams to allow 200 goals, Danis has given up three in his last three starts and posted his second career shutout Feb. 21 against New Jersey. However, he sat in the second of back-to-back games as Joey MacDonald lost for the 20th time in 24 starts Thursday night, 5-4 in a shootout to visiting Toronto.
MacDonald's play spoiled a strong effort from the Islanders, who scored twice over the final 9:31 to send the game to overtime. New York, last in the league with 148 goals, scored four for the second time in three games.
"Other than a slow start, I think our guys gave a pretty solid effort," coach Scott Gordon said. "The team battled back."
Danis is 1-1-0 with a 2.53 goals-against average versus the Sabres but hasn't faced them since Nov. 25, 2005, while MacDonald has started all three meetings this season, losing twice and giving up 12 goals.
Buffalo won 7-1 on Oct. 13 to improve to 5-2-0 at Nassau Coliseum since the start of the 2005-06 season. The Sabres have averaged 4.07 goals in winning 11 of the 15 overall meetings in that span.