ISLANDERS (14-24-7) at SABRES (21-20-5)
TV -- MSG PLUS (HD); MSG-B (HD)
Last 10 -- New York 4-5-1; Buffalo 7-2-1
Season series -- It's the second meeting of the season between the in-state rivals, who didn't face each other until last Saturday, when the Islanders won 5-3 at the Nassau Coliseum. The teams had back to Long Island for the back end of a home-and-home series on Sunday afternoon.
Big story -- The Sabres have to be looking at the home-and-home with the Isles as a big chance to get four pivotal points in the playoff race. They are seven points behind eighth-place Atlanta, but are coming off a 4-2 win at Boston on Thursday. The Islanders' lone win in their last six games was the victory against Buffalo six days earlier -- they are coming off a 2-1 home loss to Washington on Thursday.
Islanders -- The best news the Isles have gotten in a while was that forward Kyle Okposo finally made his season debut on Thursday after missing more than three months following preseason shoulder surgery. Okposo played well, though he looked rusty while missing several scoring chances.
"I thought Kyle was all right," head coach Jack Capuano said. "He had some chances on the power play in the slot there. The puck jumped off his stick there a couple of times, but I was pleased. One thing I was concerned about was the physicality of the game, the wall play, the play down low and his one-on-one, two-on-two battles. I thought he handled it pretty well."
Sabres -- After a slow start, the Sabres are starting to heat up. They're over .500 in regulation for the first time all season after the win in Boston, their fifth in seven games.
"Up until the All-Star break we've got to run the table to be around where we want to be," said goalie Ryan Miller, who made 38 saves. "That first half of the season, we had some efforts that I thought were pretty good but we weren't getting the rewards. That's a frustrating feeling. So it's been good to get that positive feeling."
Who's hot -- Isles forward Michael Grabner has goals in three consecutive games. He scored the only goal against Washington. … Buffalo's Thomas Vanek had the game-winner in Boston and has had two points in each of his last four games.
Injury report -- The Islanders also got center Frans Nielsen (groin) back. They are still without a half-dozen regulars. In addition, starting goalie Rick DiPietro, who made 40 saves in the win against the Sabres and played Thursday against Washington, did not make the trip to Buffalo due to flu-like symptoms. … Buffalo lost forward Drew Stafford (groin) last week and is without No. 1 center Derek Roy (leg) for the rest of the season.
Stat pack -- Miller has won eight of his last nine decisions against the Isles at HSBC Arena, including four in a row. … Isles center John Tavares has 5 goals in 5 career games against the Sabres, including a natural hat trick last Saturday.
Puck drop -- The Islanders are struggling against after winning nine games from Dec. 15 to Jan. 16 -- and one reason is the fact that they're almost always playing from behind. New York has allowed the first goal in each of its last eight games. In seven of them, they've trailed before the game was five minutes old; the exception was the win against Buffalo, in which the teams were scoreless after one period.