A pair of points left on the table and illness spreading through the locker room have left the New York Islanders a bit vulnerable.
The Islanders may need to avoid any further damage without captain John Tavares on Sunday night against the visiting Buffalo Sabres.
The Islanders (6-2-3) followed a 6-1-0 stretch with losses in overtime and a shootout, and sickness has recently slowed them – most recently affecting their best player.
Tavares missed his first game in nearly two years Saturday with an unspecified illness, getting evaluated by team doctors and sent home before New York’s 3-2 shootout loss at New Jersey.
It was the Islanders’ third sickness-related scratch this week after goaltender Jaroslav Halak and Ryan Strome missed Thursday’s 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina.
Halak and Strome both played Saturday, and coach Jack Capuano said the team would know more on Tavares Saturday night or Sunday morning.
"Certain guys are a little under the weather, but hopefully they’ll find out exactly what it is," Capuano told the NHL’s official website. "Hopefully it’s nothing at all, and they’ll take a few days to get better."
Tavares is the club’s leading scorer with five goals and six assists, and it would be a big boost for Buffalo (4-7-0) if he is scratched from Sunday’s contests.
Tavares has 10 goals and 10 assists in 19 career games against the Sabres, including a pair of goals and three assists while logging at least one point in each of the last four.
The Sabres likely won’t avoid seeing Halak, who will seek his sixth straight win over them if he is able to go. Halak has a 1.00 goals-against average and .952 save percentage against Buffalo during a streak that dates to April 3, 2010.
The Sabres, who are 1-3-1 in their last five against New York, are 1-3-0 on the road this season after posting a NHL-worst 9-23-3 away mark in 2014-15. Buffalo, though, enters its first game at Barclays Center playing better of late.
The Sabres have won two of three after a 4-3 overtime victory over Philadelphia on Tuesday and a 3-1 win over the Flyers on Friday. They’ve scored 13 goals in their last four games after finishing with the same amount through their first seven.
The penalty kill has also found some rhythm of late. After allowing two goals on three chances in a 7-2 loss against Montreal on Oct. 23, the Sabres have killed off eight of their last nine penalties.
"I think we’re working more as a unit," defenseman Josh Gorges told the team’s official website. "The penalty kill, it’s a tough job but you need all four guys that are on the ice – including the goalie – to work at the same pace and move the same way and make the same reads."
The Sabres may be without a key player again as center Tyler Ennis has missed the past two games with a lower-body injury. He sat out practice Saturday and will be evaluated after pregame warmups. Ennis has three goals and two assists in nine games.