Sabres, Islanders look to step up defensive efforts

The Buffalo Sabres are accustomed to lamenting their performance on defense.

For the defensively oriented New York Islanders, their Friday loss was a jarring and unusual experience.

A pair of teams looking to bounce back from porous efforts are slated to meet Saturday night when the Sabres host the Islanders in a battle of Eastern Conference rivals.

The Sabres, in the midst of a four-game homestand, were off Friday after falling to the Calgary Flames 4-3 on Thursday. The Islanders will be completing their first back-to-back set of the season after losing to the New Jersey Devils 5-4 in overtime on Friday in Elmont, N.Y.

The Thursday defeat cost the Sabres — who beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-2 in overtime on Tuesday — a chance to build their first winning streak of the season. Buffalo overcame a trio of one-goal deficits on Thursday but never took the lead against the Flames, whose four go-ahead goals tied for second most in franchise history.

Adam Ruzicka scored the game-winner for the Flames at the 4:35 mark of the third, just 81 seconds after JJ Peterka collected the tying goal for the Sabres.

Buffalo, which is in the midst of an NHL-record 12-year playoff drought, has allowed 14 goals through four games this season. The Sabres gave up 1,277 goals the previous five seasons, third most in the NHL, ahead of only the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks.

“I think we’re going to be able to score goals like that most of the year, but until we have a commitment to team defense, we won’t accomplish much,” said defenseman Erik Johnson, who scored the Sabres’ first goal on Thursday. “We won’t win in the long run like that, and that takes a five-man commitment on the ice to do it right.”

Defense isn’t usually a problem for the Islanders, who made the playoffs four times and reached the NHL semifinals twice in the previous five seasons. In that span, their 976 goals allowed were third fewest behind only the Boston Bruins and Carolina Hurricanes among teams that plays all five years.

The Islanders opened the season with a 3-2 home win over the Sabres on Oct. 14 before blanking the Arizona Coyotes 1-0 on Tuesday. However, the Devils racked up four power-play goals on Friday, the most surrendered by New York since New Jersey had four man-advantage goals in a 6-1 victory on March 1, 2014.

The inability to slow down the Devils on the power play left the Islanders with a frustrating sense of what could have been after mounting a trio of one-goal comebacks to push the contest to overtime. Bo Horvat’s second goal of the night with 1:11 left in the third forced the extra session before New Jersey’s Jack Hughes scored his second of the game at 2:19 of OT.

“It’s a funny one, because we’re happy with the point in the sense that we showed resilience in coming back,” Islanders coach Lane Lambert said. “Clearly, giving up those goals, we feel like we may have given something away.”

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