Sabres' Eichel is questionable for Monday

C.J. Smith is playing either way

Paul Hamilton
December 31, 2018 - 11:34 am

Photo: Timothy T. Ludwig - USA TODAY Sports


Buffalo, NY (WGR 550) - Jack Eichel was one of the few Sabres that skated on Monday. He looked good out there, but Phil Housley labeled him a game-time decision. Eichel was given, what Housley called, a "maintenance” day on Sunday. Housley did say that C.J. Smith will play either way.

In 33 games with Rochester this season, Smith has 13 goals and 16 assists for 29 points. In 90 career AHL games, Smith has 30 goals and 43 assists for 73 points.

Smith was signed late in the 2016-17 season as a free agent out of UMass-Lowell. He played two games with Buffalo, picking up an assist. Housley said they’re trying to find something to get some scoring going, “It’s just something that Jason and I met and came to that obviously we need some more help in scoring and not to put all the pressure on him, but I think he’s done a terrific job down in Rochester playing in all situations, so he’s crafty with a good hockey IQ and I think he can provide us with a spark.”

Lawrence Pilut and Matt Hunwick will be the healthy scratches. Carter Hutton will start his third straight game in goal.

In his last eight starts, Hutton is 1-5-2 with a 2.99 goals-against and .907 save percentage. By contrast, former Sabres goalie Robin Lehner has gone 4-1-2 in his last seven games with a 1.05 goals-against and .961 save percentage. Lehner has played in four of the last five games and six of the last nine.

Overall this season, Lehner is 8-6-3 with a 2.21 goals-against and .926 save percentage.

The strong goaltending has the Islanders on a three-game winning streak. New York has also won six out of seven games.

Mathew Barzal leads the Islanders with 35 points in 37 games. Barzal has five goals in two games, and six goals and eight points in his last four.

The Islanders have been missing Thomas Hickey, Jordan Eberle and Andrew Ladd due to injuries.

Kyle Okposo goes into Monday’s game with no goals in 21 games and one point in 17. He practiced on Sunday with Johan Larsson and Remi Elie. Housley feels there are things Okposo can do to improve, “He has to provide that power forward, hard work ethic and for the most part, he’s been working real hard. I’d just like to see him attack the game and I know that there’s a burden on him, he wants to contribute.

“He’s got a lot of pride in his game and he’s done a terrific job in our leadership capacity, so tonight it’s just continue to work and fight and try to get to the net.”

At his current pace, Okposo would score 11 goals and 21 assists for 32 points in 82 games. He said his play has been fine, it's just not getting results, "It's a results oriented business and you have to produce, that is the bottom line and it's frustrating when you don't.

"Once you start looking at the end game, that's when you can drive yourself nuts and right now, I'm not playing poorly and that's been the frustrating part for me is I'm not playing bad hockey. It's not like I'm out there hurting the team, but it saying that you still have to find ways to create opportunities and to get better."

Despite going 4-6-4 in their last 14 games, the Sabres are still seventh in the NHL with a .615 points percentage. The Islanders are 10th at .595.

Join Mike Schopp for the pre-game at 5:00 live from (716) Food and Sport when he’ll be joined by Phil Housley, Kyle Okposo, C.J. Smith and Robin Lehner.

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