The New York Islanders look to build off what might be their best win of the year in Toronto. In their first game against John Tavares since he left for Toronto, the Islanders were fired up to send the Leafs a loss on Saturday night at Scotiabank Arena. The Isles flew out of Pearson Intl. with a 4-0 win to celebrate on the way home. It was their third straight win and sixth win in their last seven games.
The Isles have quietly been asserting themselves in the Eastern Conference with a record of 20-13-1. Their greatest improvement from a season ago is pretty obvious. The defence has looked like a totally different unit, as their production on the blue line has been night and day. They’ve split the crease between Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss, with Lehner emerging as a go-to option for the Islanders.
He was open with his bipolar disorder and alcohol problem in the offseason, and it seems since he got some help it’s helped him with his job as well. Lehner will step between the pipes against his former team on Monday. He spent his previous three seasons in Buffalo before making the move to Brooklyn.
Lehner posted a 3.01 GAA and 0.908 save percentage in his final season with the Sabres. He is currently on pace for a career-high with a 2.21 GAA and 0.926 save percentage. His career was teetering between a starting goaltender or backup and he’s really stepped up and focused in a make or break season. A lot of credit should be given to that blue line as well.
Despite playing good hockey lately, the Isles figure to be a fringe playoff team in a few months. They might sneak in, but I don’t know if the fire power is there to consistently compete with the better teams in the Eastern Conference. While the isles have won six of their last seven games, the Sabres have lost four of their last five. They need to get back to the same formula that won them ten games in a row. Head below for our free Islanders vs. Sabres pick on New Year’s Eve.
N.Y. Islanders vs. Buffalo Sabres Pick
The Islanders needed to find a way to improve without Tavares on the roster. Offensively they knew they were going to take a hit, as Tavares is one of the better playmakers in the NHL. However, one area that really could have been improved from a season ago was the defence. Just look at what they accomplished last season, which was a whole lot of nothing. The Isles finished dead last in the league with 3.57 goals allowed per game.
Without Tavares, they have focused on defence a whole lot more, as the islanders are now 4th in the league with 2.65 goals allowed per game. In their last ten games, they’ve allowed just 1.9 goals per game. If you’ve been an Islanders’ fan in a coma for the last few months, you would have to believe that there must be a typo. The change has been drastic, though we’ll see if they can sustain it in 2019.
The offence is going to have to get better, however. 2.95 goals per game would have been good enough a couple of years ago, but that’s not going to get it done over the course of this season. They caught the Maple Leafs sleeping on Saturday night.
The Sabres have been solid at home this season with a record of 12-4-3. Although, they did blow a late lead in the 3rd against the Bruins in Saturday and ultimately falling in overtime, 3-2. That’s a point that might hurt them later on in the season.
I do expect the Sabres to respond with a positive showing, though. The Islanders are coming off their biggest win of the year, a game they put all of their energy into. This will also be their sixth game on the road in their last seven outings. I expect them to be a bit sloppy in Buffalo. This should make for a pretty good game between two teams who are on the rise from a season ago. Ultimately, the Sabres should be able to edge the Islanders out with a win on Monday.