Islanders-Sabres Preview

Jaroslav Halak was rewarded for his outstanding play with a night off before the Christmas break and the New York Islanders' win streak was promptly halted at four.

Halak will be back in net Saturday night when the Islanders visit the Buffalo Sabres, who have returned to their early-season losing ways following a monthlong surge.

After starting every game during the win streak and allowing six goals on 92 shots, Halak was rested Tuesday in favor of backup Chad Johnson, who made 18 saves while losing his third straight start, 3-1 to Montreal.

Johnson won four of his first five starts with a 2.96 goals-against average, but he's dropped four of five since behind a 4.16 GAA - making it abundantly clear that New York (23-11-0) needs Halak to remain healthy for the remainder of the season.

"It's frustrating," said Johnson. "You play to win hockey games. We were right there. It just didn't happen. You've just got to regroup and keep working."

Halak is 18-6-0 with three shutouts, a 2.24 GAA and .919 save percentage, and the Islanders have been unable to counter offensively when he isn't at his best. New York is 4-5 when he's allowed at least three goals and 14-1 when he's given up two or less.

Kyle Okposo scored and the Islanders outshot the Canadiens 14-3 in the first period, but they allowed three goals on 18 shots in the second and third. New York put the puck on net 15 times in the final period, but goalie Carey Price got it done for Montreal.

"I thought we ran out of gas," Okposo told the team's website. "We looked like a tired team tonight. We didn't have that same jump in the offensive zone we usually do."

Despite the loss, the Islanders will come out of the break still tied with Chicago and Anaheim for the most victories in the NHL, though they trail first-place Pittsburgh by three points in the Metropolitan Division.

New York would certainly like to make some noise coming out of the holiday hiatus the same way it did last season with seven wins in the first nine games after Dec. 25, but the Islanders play eight of their next nine on the road. They've lost four of seven away games and their power play has gone 2 for 27 over the previous nine.

"We can't forget what we've done here in the past, and what's made us good," New York defenseman Travis Hamonic said.

Buffalo (13-19-3) appeared to be recovering from 15 losses in its first 18 games during a 10-3-0 stretch from Nov. 15-Dec. 15, but the Sabres dropped their final four games heading into the break - three of them on the road.

After allowing 29 total goals during those solid four weeks, Buffalo has given up 20 just in the last four games, including a 6-3 loss at Detroit on Tuesday that matched a season worst for goals allowed.

The Sabres took a 3-2 lead into the third but gave up four goals in a single period for the third time. All three of their penalties in the third ended with Detroit goals.

"Playing a good team, you have to play smart with a two-goal lead," coach Ted Nolan said. "We took a stupid penalty and the rest is history."

The upside is that most of the success from Nov. 15-Dec. 15 came in Buffalo, where the Sabres have won eight of their last ten.

This marks the first meeting this season between these clubs.

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