A crucial battle in the Eastern Conference playoff race will be on tap when the Buffalo Sabres visit the New York Islanders on Tuesday night in Elmont, N.Y.
The Islanders hold the first wild-card spot in the conference with 72 points. The Penguins sit in the second wild-card position with 71 points, and the Sabres have 68 points, level with three other teams. Buffalo and Pittsburgh have three games in hand on the Islanders.
New York is 7-3-3 since Bo Horvat’s debut with the team on Feb. 6, with the forward recording eight points (five goals, three assists) in that span.
“He’s just so solid,” Islanders captain Anders Lee said. “He doesn’t make mistakes out there. He’s constantly in the right spot positionally. He’s great on draws, he can kill (penalties) and helps obviously on the power play.
“He can score from anywhere, so just a really special player and one that’s absolutely improved our team.”
While the Islanders have put together a solid stretch, they have struggled to string victories together since a four-game winning streak ended on Feb. 7. Only once in 11 games since then have they won consecutive contests.
They are, however, 4-1-1 in their past six games as they kick off a week in which they will face three teams that are chasing them, beginning with the Sabres. The Islanders will play at Pittsburgh on Thursday and will host the Washington Capitals (68 points) on Saturday.
“We’re going to be doing a lot of scoreboard-watching from here on out,” New York forward Zach Parise said. “There are teams that are chasing us that have some games in hand. It’s important for us to keep winning.”
Buffalo is coming off a 3-2 loss to the visiting Edmonton Oilers on Monday, a game in which the Sabres generated plenty of scoring chances while tossing 39 shots on goal.
“I thought we had great energy all the way through the game,” Sabres coach Don Granato said. “That’s No. 1 — we need to be dialed in, focused, play with energy, play with pace. A combination of all that is how we want to play. …
“Through that, we generated enough chances to win. We just didn’t convert enough, and that happens and it’s unfortunate, but we’ve got to move on and move on fast. I know our guys — we talk a lot — they’re not happy about it.”
Forward Jeff Skinner scored his 27th goal of the season in the loss, bringing his point total to 63 points, which matches a career high set four times previously, including last season in 80 games. He has seven goals in his past nine games.
Jordan Greenway made his debut with the Sabres on Monday after being acquired in a trade with the Minnesota Wild on Friday.
“I think he can fit in in different spots; he’s a very intelligent hockey player as well,” Granato said. “I think he’s going to be better and better as he finds a calm and (gets) comfortable. … So we get him a couple of games, he’ll get in a rhythm with us, and who knows where he’ll end up, but I’m sure he can help.”
Buffalo defensemen Mattias Samuelsson and Riley Stillman did not play against Edmonton, each dealing with an upper-body injury. It was unknown whether either of them would be available to face the Islanders.
Granato also is hopeful to have Tyson Jost back in the lineup. The forward missed the game against the Oilers because of an undisclosed injury.
–Field Level Media