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Smith to make debut as Sabres host Islanders

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

Exactly one week ago, C.J. Smith was playing his final collegiate game for UMass Lowell, a 3-2 loss to Notre Dame in the quarterfinal round of the NCAA Tournament. Today, he'll be making his NHL debut for the Buffalo Sabres against the New York Islanders. 

Of all the facets of the game that are made more difficult after making the jump from college to the pros, one that stands out the most is adjusting to the increase in size of the opposition. It will be something to watch for from Smith, who described his tenacity on the puck as one of the defining aspects of his game.

 "In two days of practice we've had some battle situations, 1-on-1s and 2-on-2s and he did quite well against some of our bigger guys so it will be something to see, it will be a challenge for him," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "But I think that's his game. His game is speed and agility and tenacious on pucks and I think he'll be alright."

Video: Preview: BUF vs. NYI (4/2/17)

The Islanders enter the game six points out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with five games to play and are 4-5-1 in their last 10. Leading scorer John Tavares is out for the remainder of the regular season with a lower-body injury. 

"They're fighting for their playoff lives at this point of the season and certainly seen that in their game over the last few weeks. Recently they've had trouble with starts in games and getting on the wrong side of it early on in contests. That's something they've been fighting the last five games or so. 

"Going back to previously when we played them, they were probably one of the better teams at coming out of the D-zone and they exploited it against us last game and got odd-man rushes. That's a big part of their game."

Robin Lehner will start in net for the Sabres and will be opposed by Jaroslav Halak. 

Kyle Okposo will miss his second game in a row due to an illness and has been ruled out of Monday's game against Toronto as well. 

Coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. with the Tops Pregame Show on MSG-B, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops between the Sabres and Islanders at 3 p.m.


Projected lineup

9 Evander Kane - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 63 Tyler Ennis
82 Marcus Foligno - 15 Jack Eichel - 23 Sam Reinhart
49 C.J. Smith - 71 Evan Rodrigues - 12 Brian Gionta
48 William Carrier - 28 Zemgus Girgensons - 26 Matt Moulson

29 Jake McCabe - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
77 Dmitry Kulikov - 47 Zach Bogosian
4 Josh Gorges - 41 Justin Falk

40 Robin Lehner
31 Anders Nilsson

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