By any measure, the New York Islanders and Buffalo Sabres are two of the most pleasant surprises in the NHL this season. But only the Islanders will be accompanied by completely good feelings Saturday afternoon, when they host the Sabres in Uniondale, N.Y.
Both teams were off Friday after extending winning streaks on Thursday night. The Islanders ended their three-game southern road trip with a second straight win, a 3-1 victory over the Florida Panthers. The host Sabres won their third straight game by beating the Nashville Predators, 4-3.
The three-game winning streak is the longest for the Sabres since they had a pair of three-game runs during an 8-1-1 start, after which they went 5-10-5 over the next 20 games. The current run has been enough to vault Buffalo, whose eight-season postseason drought is the longest in the NHL, into sole possession of second place in the Atlantic Division.
“Obviously, when you get on a run like this and the team’s playing well, you’re just really trying to do the little things every night,” Sabres captain Jack Eichel told reporters Thursday night after he scored two goals to extend his point streak to 15 games.
“It’s rewarding. You try and take care of your end and try to be responsible and not do too much, I think good things happen.”
But not all the feelings around the Sabres are positive. Canada’s TSN reported Thursday that defenseman Zach Bogosian requested a trade after he was a healthy scratch against the Predators for the first time in his 12-year career.
Bogosian, who underwent hip surgery during the offseason and has three assists in 10 games since his return, said he talked to his agent, general manager Jason Botterill and head coach Ralph Krueger but declined to go into detail about the conversation or confirm whether he had requested a trade.
“Everyone wants to play,” Bogosian told reporters.
“So for me, I’m just focused on working hard and getting back in the lineup. I like where my game is going. For the first time in a lot of years, I’m healthy and 100 percent, so I like where I’m going.”
Few outsiders thought the Islanders could continue the surge they made last season, when they finished with 103 points under first-year head coach Barry Trotz and reached the second round of the playoffs despite losing John Tavares to free agency in the summer of 2018.
New York had another quiet offseason but has 44 points through 30 games — tied for the fewest games played in the NHL entering Friday — thanks to a defense that is on pace to allow the fewest goals in the league for the second straight season.
The Islanders enjoyed a franchise-record 17-game point streak from Oct. 12 through Nov. 23 but were 3-4-0 — a span that included lopsided road losses at the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings — before outscoring the Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning by a combined 8-2 in their previous two games.
“We’re looking forward to getting home,” Islanders captain Anders Lee said after recording a Gordie Howe hat trick (a goal, an assist and a fight) against the Panthers. “We did a pretty good job of taking care of business when we needed to and turning this trip around and having a good response after a big trip out west.”
–Field Level Media