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Game Preview: Islanders vs. Sabres

by Dyan LeBourdais / New York Islanders
Glancing at the 2010-2011 schedule, it looks as if the National Hockey League forgot about the Islanders-Sabres matchups when they were creating the schedule and to make up for it, they squeezed three games into a nine-day span. Therefore, Saturday night the Islanders will host the Buffalo Sabres for the first of three meetings in nine days and then they will take a two week break before playing them for a fourth time.

But Saturday’s game will be the Islanders third game of a five-game homestand and sixth game in a 10-day span. In the last three games, the Isles are 0-2-1 and especially disappointed with their most recent performance, a 6-4 loss to the Senators.  

“You’d like to just throw the first 40 minutes away,” Islanders forward Rob Schremp said. “I don’t think we came out very strong against a team that was kind of struggling. We had to come out and put the pressure on them, but we did the exact opposite. It wasn’t a very good game for us.”

John Tavares #91 of the New York Islanders fights off a check by Filip Kuba #17 of the Ottawa Senators on January 13, 2011 at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. Senators defeat the Islanders 6-4. (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)
Seeing as Thursday night’s game is one the team would like to forget, redemption will be a theme on Saturday night.

“We’ve been bouncing back, especially after tough games,” sophomore centerman John Tavares said. “That’s been a positive. So that is something we’ll look to do (Saturday). We want to keep playing well. We don’t want to fall back in to things that weren’t making us successful or bad habits. So we just have to keep playing the way we’re playing and make sure we’re staying positive and kind of just throw that one away and worry about tomorrow.”

Schremp added, “I think we can build off the game because we kind of came back and made a push so we have to start the way we finish.”

But defeating the Sabres could be tough. The Sabres are 10 points above the Islanders in the Eastern Conference standings and are 5-1-1 in their last seven games, while the Isles are 0-2-1 in their last three. On top of that, the Islanders have not swept a 4-game series with the Sabres since the 2003-04 season and even though they won both games at Nassau Coliseum last season, they finished at .500 against the club.

“They’re always a very good defensive team, a well coached team,” Tavares said. “They have a good goaltender so we have to look at it as a bounce back game after a poor performance (Thursday) night. Hopefully we can turn it around and have a good one against them.”

Between the Pipes
Goaltending has been a major topic on the fan boards recently, as the Islanders have had two rookie goaltenders dressing in the last five games. While Kevin Poulin is still undefeated in regulation after seeing time in four games, he’s only recorded one win and Nathan Lawson has yet to record a win.

Determined to get back to his top form, Rick DiPietro has battled through his share of ups and downs this season (like seasons prior), but at Friday morning’s practice at Nassau Coliseum, interim head coach Jack Capuano said chances are “pretty good” that the veteran goaltender will start in net on Saturday against the Sabres.

“Tomorrow morning we’ll make that decision, but he’s feeling really good,” Capuano said. “If Ricky feels good and he’s ready to go (then we’ll put him in). He’s been having a couple good days of practice. I just want to make sure that he’s healthy.”

Currently, the goaltender has been sidelined with a groin strain he endured while making a save against the Calgary Flames on January 3. He pulled himself out of the game 2:58 into the second period after giving up one goal and making 13 saves.

Prior to the injury, DiPietro was on his way back. He made 37 saves for a 2-1 win over the Eastern Conference leading Pittsburgh Penguins on Dec. 29. Before that (Dec. 16), he made 30 saves for a 3-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks, but immediately following he did a brief stint on injured reserve retroactive to Dec. 17 when he began experiencing some minor swelling in his right knee.

Now that the groin strain and the swelling in his knee are healed, DiPietro is ready to play and his teammates will be happy to get him back.

“It’s great,” Tavares said. “He’s been pushing himself pretty hard these last few days and he’s feeling good. You can really see now in practice and his last few games that he’s really starting to get back to the form that he’s been accustomed to in the past. He’s a big part of our team.”

More Updates
While DiPietro will most-likely dress for the game on Saturday night, center Frans Nielsen isn’t as lucky. He endured a groin injury on January 3 and has not seen game action since.

“Fransie is still day-to-day, but I don’t see him playing tomorrow,” Capuano said. “When you have that lower body injury, you want to make sure that you’re 100 percent. We’re not going to take any chances.”
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