Sabres-Islanders clash features COVID-compromised teams

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It won’t take the Buffalo Sabres long to line up against an opponent that could learn the lesson the Sabres absorbed following their return to action Wednesday night.

The Sabres are scheduled to complete a back-to-back set Thursday night, when they’re slated to visit the New York Islanders in Elmont, N.Y.

The Sabres played for the first time in 12 days Wednesday night, when they fell to the visiting New Jersey Devils, 4-3. The Islanders haven’t played since Dec. 19, when the visiting Vegas Golden Knights earned a 4-3 shootout win.

The Sabres and Islanders were scheduled to return from the holiday break with a game in Buffalo on Monday, but that was postponed when the NHL added an extra day to the holiday break to allow additional time for COVID-19 testing.

The Islanders were then slated to return to action Wednesday, but their game against the Detroit Red Wings in Elmont was postponed due to continued COVID-19 outbreaks on both teams.

If the Sabres’ performance Wednesday is any indication, the Islanders could be in for an inconsistent return. Buffalo, which had six players — defenseman Jacob Bryson, center Dylan Cozens, left winger Zemgus Girgensons, right winger Vinnie Hinostroza, center Mark Jankowski and left winger Jeff Skinner — as well as head coach Don Granato in COVID-19 protocols Wednesday night, had just three shots on goal in the first while falling behind 2-0.

The Sabres tied the game on a pair of goals by Tage Thompson in the first four minutes of the second period but couldn’t collect the tie-breaker and gave up a pair of goals by the Devils in a span of 2:22 early in the third. New Jersey ended up outshooting Buffalo 42-22.

“The execution at times — it was definitely sloppy. It took us a little while to get into the game even at that point just finding a true rhythm to the game,” said Sabres assistant coach Matt Ellis, who filled in for Granato. “Tonight it felt a little bit off; but the battle level was there; the compete was certainly there.”

Coming back from breaks is nothing new for the Islanders, who had eight players in protocols Nov. 27 when they became the second team to have its season paused by the NHL. New York had two games postponed before returning to action Dec. 2 with a 2-1 overtime loss to the San Jose Sharks — the ninth of 11 consecutive losses (0-8-3) for the club.

The coronavirus has continued to hit the Islanders hard this month, with Mathew Barzal going into the protocols Dec. 14 and Matt Martin and Robin Salo doing so before the game against the Golden Knights before Anthony Beauvillier, Cal Clutterbuck and Zack Parise all tested positive Sunday.

Barzal, Martin and Salo are scheduled to return Thursday, but Brock Nelson — who leads the team with 10 goals despite missing seven games with a lower body injury — became the latest addition to the COVID-19 list Tuesday.

“Ideally, I’d like every team to have a full complement of players and we’re playing and there’s no disruption and all that,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said Tuesday. “But that’s not reality. That’s fantasy hockey right now. Control your attitude, control your work ethic and I think our guys have done a really good job of that.”

–Field Level Media

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