Mathew Barzal is beginning to look like a frontrunner for the Calder Trophy and the skillful 20-year-old center hopes to pick up where he left off before Christmas when his New York Islanders host the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday night. Barzal, the 16th pick in the 2015 draft, notched a hat trick in Saturday’s victory over Winnipeg and boasts seven points in his last four contests to lead all rookies with 35.
“We know how he skates and controls the play,” New York coach Doug Weight told reporters of Barzal, who was named the NHL’s second star of the week Sunday. “But he’s got composure at a young age. He’s got a lot of confidence right now. It’s fun to watch him.” Barzal’s efforts allowed the Islanders to win for only the fourth time in 12 games this month (4-6-2) on Saturday and they can finish a five-game homestand with points in four of five with a positive result against the struggling Sabres. Buffalo is last in the Eastern Conference with 25 points after going 1-3-1 in the last five games and stands last in the league in scoring (2.17). Center Jack Eichel is starting to warm up offensively for the Sabres with five goals and eight points in the last four contests.
TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, MSG Buffalo, MSG Plus (New York)
ABOUT THE SABRES (9-20-7): Eichel tops the team in assists (19) and owns 32 points overall - one behind Buffalo’s leader Evander Kane, who has been mentioned consistently in trade rumors as an impending unrestricted free agent. “I think my game is really coming along,” Eichel told reporters. “I’m moving my feet better, getting shots and making plays. But we have a long way to go as a group, myself included. There’s a lot of things I have to get better at.” Center Ryan O’Reilly, who is third on the team with 23 points and has five in his last six games, should be back after missing the last contest for the birth of his child.
ABOUT THE ISLANDERS (19-13-4): New York showed some improvement defensively against the talented Jets on Saturday, but are still last in the league in goals allowed (3.50 per game) while standing second in goals scored (3.56). “We’ve shown that we have the firepower to win hockey games,” Barzal’s linemate Jordan Eberle told reporters. “But especially down the stretch, late in the season, all the games are 2-1, 3-2. You need to learn how to win those ways.” Josh Bailey takes an eight-game point streak (five goals, 10 assists) into Wednesday’s game and captain John Tavares boasts points in seven in a row (four, 11).
1. The Islanders are 4-0-2 in the last six games against the Sabres, including a 6-3 triumph Oct. 7 with two goals apiece from Tavares and C Casey Cizikas.
2. New York F Anders Lee has six of his team-best 22 goals in his last eight games and is third with 37 points - behind only Bailey and Tavares (46 apiece).
3. Buffalo is 0-for-8 on the power play in the last five games and is 30th in the league at 12.3 percent after leading the NHL in 2016-17 at 24.5.
PREDICTION: Islanders 5, Sabres 3