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DiPietro to start as Isles host Sabres

by John Kreiser

SABRES (29-11-5) at ISLANDERS (20-19-8)

Last 10 - Buffalo 7-1-2; New York 7-2-1

Season series - It's the fourth and final meeting between the team. The home team has won the first three - all decisively. Buffalo beat the Islanders 6-3 on Oct. 16 and 3-0 on Nov. 4, while the Islanders routed the Sabres 5-0 at the Nassau Coliseum on Oct. 24.The teams have split their last 24 games, dating to Dec. 31, 2002.

Big story - The Sabres, who have missed the playoffs in each of the past two seasons, have opened up a 10-point lead on Boston in the Northeast Division and are third in the East, two points behind conference-leading New Jersey and one in back of Washington - which has played two more games. The Sabres are seeking their eighth win in nine games as they head to Long Island for Game 2 in a seven-game road trip.

Team Scope:

Sabres - The Sabres' offense hasn't produced much more than it did last season, but they've gotten some of the NHL's best goaltending. Ryan Miller, the likely starter for Team USA at the Winter Olympics next month, is second in wins (26) and goals-against average (2.02) and is tied for second with five shutouts.

Miller has another strong performance as the Sabres opened their 14-day trip with a 2-1 overtime victory against Atlanta on Thursday. He made 32 saves before Derek Roy got the game-winner midway through overtime on a power play.

"We put ourselves in a tough spot, but we bounced back with some good penalty killing," Miller said. "We stuck with it. We did a good job penalty killing. We battled hard."

Islanders - It's start No. 2 for comebacking goaltender Rick DiPietro, who missed more than a year with a knee injury that required surgery and extensive rehab. DiPietro made his return on Jan. 8, looking rusty in a 4-3 loss at Dallas.

DiPietro's last NHL win came at the Nassau Coliseum on Dec. 26, 2008, when he allowed one goal in a home win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. He hasn't played at the Nassau Coliseum since that 4-1 victory.

“Whether he gets a lift tonight will depend on how he plays," coach Scott Gordon told the media at Saturday's morning skate when asked whether DiPietro will get a boost by playing at home.

And why play DiPietro tonight? Gordon said he didn't want his franchise goaltender to go too long between starts.

Who's hot - Buffalo center Tim Connolly, a first-round pick by the Islanders in 1999, has 5 goals and 10 assists for 15 points during a career-high 10-game point streak. Connolly has a goal and a pair of assists in three games against his former club this season. … Josh Bailey and Kyle Okposo have led New York offensively during its recent surge. Bailey has 4 goals and 8 assists during a career-best seven-game point streak, while Okposo has goals in four consecutive games after managing one in his previous 23.

Injury report - The Sabres got forward Patrick Kaleta back on Thursday after he missed six games with a leg injury. Otherwise, they're healthy. … The Islanders put defenseman Brendan Witt on IR this week with a calf injury. Forward Tim Jackman (fractured orbital bone) could be back by the end of the month.

Stat pack - Buffalo has seven players with 10 or more goals; only Washington (nine) and Chicago (eight) have more). … Isles goaltender Dwayne Roloson, a one-time Sabre, is 7-0-1 with a 2.02 goals-against average in his last eight starts - but is 0-5-1 with a tie and a 3.46 GAA against Buffalo. ... The Islanders have shut out the Sabres in their last two visits to the Coliseum.

Puck drop - The news that DiPietro is going to play should rev up the Coliseum crowd. The Islanders are in one of their toughest stretches of the season, a four-game span that sees them host Detroit, Buffalo and New Jersey before going to Pittsburgh. They're hoping that DiPietro will have shaken off some of the rust in his second start -- and he'll have to be a lot better for the Isles to beat one of the NHL's top teams.

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