It's been a miserable December for the New York Islanders, but their play may finally be taking a positive turn as the New Year approaches.
With Rick DiPietro back in net and a lengthy losing streak over, the Islanders visit a Buffalo Sabres team mired in a three-game slide of its own on Saturday night.
New York was winless in 10 December games entering its Christmas break, getting outscored 44-18 while posting an 0-9-1 record. The Islanders (11-21-3) ended the skid - their longest since dropping 11 straight from March 16-April 5, 1996 - by beating Toronto 4-1 at home on Friday night for their first win since Nov. 29.
"It's been a while," Islanders defenseman Chris Campoli said. "We'll take it."
Islanders captain Bill Guerin reached 400 career goals with his team-leading 12th and 13th tallies of the season. His effort backed a 28-save performance from Rick DiPietro, who was back in net first since Oct. 25 following his second knee surgery in five months.
DiPietro added an assist while earning his first win since Feb. 28. The assist was the 14th of his career, breaking Billy Smith's club record for points by a goalie.
Though DiPietro returned, the Islanders lost forward Andy Hilbert to a hairline fracture in his foot. Four other Isles remain on injured reserve, and leading scorer Doug Weight (29 points) sat out his third consecutive game with a groin ailment.
An injury-depleted Sabres squad - with four players out including captain Craig Rivet (shoulder) - now looks to keep New York from winning back-to-back contests for the first time since Nov. 22-24, the first game of which was a 4-2 victory in Buffalo. Despite that outcome, the Sabres have won 10 of the last 14 matchups in this rivalry.
DiPietro is 7-7-1 with a 2.68 goals-against average in his career against the Sabres, but has allowed seven goals while losing his last to outings to them.
Buffalo (16-14-5) has dropped three straight one-goal decisions, including a 3-2 loss at Washington on Friday.
Thomas Vanek's power-play goal - his team-leading 25th overall - in the third period ended his season-high four-game goal-scoring drought, but reigning league MVP Alexander Ovechkin scored to put the Capitals ahead 3-1 with 11:33 left.
"They capitalized on our mistakes, the Ovechkin goal especially," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "We won the battle of special teams, but we didn't win the battle at even strength."
Buffalo backup goalie Patrick Lalime made 31 saves Friday, meaning starter Ryan Miller is likely to be between the pipes Saturday. Miller is 7-3-0 with a 3.03 GAA in his last 10 starts versus the Islanders.
Vanek scored twice in a win at Nassau Coliseum on Oct. 13. He has five goals and four assists in 14 career matchups with the Isles.