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Islanders-Sabres Preview

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A strong defense has been key to the Buffalo Sabres' rise to top of the Eastern Conference. It's also helped them continue their success against the New York Islanders.

The Sabres look for their sixth straight win over the Islanders when they meet at HSBC Arena on Monday.

Buffalo (28-7-3) is giving up 2.82 goals per game this season, but its only shutout win was a 3-0 victory over the Islanders (19-15-3) on Oct. 26. Ryan Miller made 29 saves and Maxim Afinogenov had a goal and an assist in the win.

The Sabres won their third straight game, 4-1 over Southeast Division-leading Atlanta on Saturday. Buffalo stopped all four of the Thrashers' chances with the man advantage, and have thwarted their opponents' last 15 power-play opportunities.

Thomas Vanek had two goals and an assist against Atlanta, and the win also locked up All-Star honors for Lindy Ruff, who will coach the East in the Jan. 24 game in Dallas.

Vanek leads the Sabres with 22 goals after scoring 25 in 81 games last season as a rookie. He has four goals and an assist in his last three games.

Sabres center Daniel Briere added a goal and an assist, ending a nine-game goal-scoring drought - his longest since the 2003-04 season. Briere leads the team with 46 points, but said he didn't overreact during the skid.

"It's something that earlier on in my career I would have been going crazy, not being able to finish," Briere told The Buffalo News' Web site. "But when the team keeps winning it's a lot easier to go through and get over it."

New York played its first game without one of its top defensemen - and was blanked for the second straight game, losing to New Jersey 2-0 on Saturday.

Radek Martinek will be out for the next four weeks after suffering a broken foot Tuesday during a 2-0 win over the Rangers. He finished that game and then played more than 23 minutes Wednesday in a 2-0 loss to Ottawa.

"This is the right thing for him," Islanders coach Ted Nolan said. "As much as we'll miss Radek, and we know how much he hates being out, we look forward to getting Radek back at 100 percent,"

In 36 games, Martinek had two goals and 11 assists with a plus-15 rating, tops among the team's defensemen.

The Isles enter this game having failed to score in 138 minutes, 12 seconds.

"We have to keep working hard," Islanders center Andy Hilbert said. "We need one of those dirty goals that goes off someone's pant or shin pad. Hopefully, the flood gates will then open."

Jason Blake leads the Islanders with 21 goals, but has just two in five games after recording his first career hat trick in a 4-3 win over the Rangers on Dec. 19. He's scored goals in each of his last two games in Buffalo.

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