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Game Preview: Islanders vs. Sabres

by Dyan LeBourdais / New York Islanders
The New York Islanders have faced the Buffalo Sabres twice in the last week outscoring them 10-5, but that’s not the end of this matchup between conference rivals. The Islanders will take on the Sabres for a third time on Sunday afternoon.

“It should be a good challenge,” Islanders center John Tavares said Saturday afternoon. “Obviously they’re probably going to want to come out much harder and have a better result against us. We’ve had some success, but they may change things up tomorrow and we have to be ready for that and ready to work.”

Scheduling the three games within nine days is really peculiar, but the Islanders have capitalized and hope to bring home their third Sunday afternoon. Without a doubt, Buffalo will bring their toughest effort and will be looking for a win, no matter how they have to do it.

ohn Tavares #91 skates away from the goalmouth after scoring the natural hattrick in the second period against the Buffalo Sabres at the Nassau Coliseum on January 15, 2011 in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
“It started getting a little bit nasty (Friday) night,” Tavares said. “So I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a chippy one tomorrow. They’re going to want to come back hard and be able to get one back from us, so we have to make sure we’re ready to play.”

Depending on how rough the play becomes, there could be a handful of penalties delivered to both teams. Therefore, it’s a good thing the Islanders penalty kill was an important part of the team’s success. The Islanders took three penalties in the first period when facing the Sabres at HSBC Arena and didn’t allow one shorthanded goal.

“Our penalty kill has been great,” Tavares said. “It’s been sharper. We’ve been taking lanes away and getting our sticks in the way, blocking shots, getting it down and that’s been a big part of our success lately.”

Scoring the first goal in Friday night’s contest was extremely important. Rookie forward Michael Grabner’s goal put the Islanders on the scoreboard before their opponent for the first time in their last nine games.

“We have to start doing that more often,” Tavares said. “We haven’t been very good on our starts in the last few weeks and that’s an important part for a young team, to get that confidence early. We need to get a couple goals, get our feet going and not have to play from behind all the time against some really good teams, some good goaltenders and some really good players. We have to do that tomorrow once again.”

That first goal definitely gave the Islanders that confidence they needed to maintain their momentum. While the success was a full team effort, the production has largely been in part to outstanding performances from Tavares and Grabner. Friday night, Grabner had a two-goal game.

“Graby’s (Grabner's) first one was a big one,” Tavares said. “It was a nice fortunate bounce. He’s been playing great. I mean it seems that he gets three or four breakaways a game. He gets a lot of chances and it’s nice to see him get rewarded. He’s a great guy in the locker room as well. And then he tried to set up about three guys on the empty netter and he finally decided to just take it himself, so it’s good to see him rolling and hopefully he’ll keep it going for us.”

Tavares also had a two point night on the 21st. He won the faceoff to set up Matt Moulson and also passed to PA Parenteau in the slot. But in the first matchup between the clubs this season (Jan. 15), Tavares’ scored his second hat trick of the season, lifting the Islanders 3-1 over the Sabres. A third period goal from Grabner solidified a 5-3 win.

Rick DiPietro #39 of the New York Islanders makes the stop on Thomas Vanek #26 of the Buffalo Sabres at the Nassau Coliseum on January 15, 2011 in Uniondale, New York. The Islanders defeated the Sabres 5-3. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
While the Islanders offense has been producing points, the performance from the Islanders goaltenders was also strong. Rick DiPietro made 40 saves for just the ninth time in his NHL career when he went up against Ryan Miller on the 15th. And the 36-save joint effort from rookie goaltenders Nathan Lawson and Kevin Poulin forced Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff to pull Miller in favor of Patrick Lalime, after he let up two goals in the first 10:30 of play.

“Lawson did a good job of battling through after he got hurt, with six minutes or so left in the period, he got through it and kept the game where it was,” DiPietro said about the performance, while he was home battling the flu. “Then Pouls came in and shut the door for us.”

With DiPietro feeling better, he’ll most likely get the start on Sunday. And even though Miller let up seven goals between the two contests, Tavares said he wouldn’t be surprised if the veteran goaltender was Buffalo’s starter.

“We’ve been able to score against him, but he’s a great goaltender, a great competitor, and I’m sure he’ll probably be back in there tomorrow,” Tavares said. “I’m sure if he is, he’s going to battle hard and want to have a good game to bounce back. He’s one of the best in the world so we have to make sure that we’re doing the right things. We’re driving the net, taking a lot of shots and we just have to keep rolling.”
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