(AP) — Ryan Miller wants the Buffalo Sabres to head into the All-Star break with a five-game winning streak, and a fortuitous schedule is affording them that opportunity.
They still, however, haven’t won three in a row all season.
Miller and the Sabres look for their longest winning streak of 2010-11 when they face the New York Islanders for the second time in a week as the teams open a home-and-home set at HSBC Arena on Friday night.
Buffalo (21-20-5) is still trying to recover from a sluggish start to the season, which included losing 11 of its first 14 games. A 7-2-1 stretch has the Sabres headed in the right direction, but they’re still seven points out of a playoff spot.
They continued their strong run Thursday, winning 4-2 at Northeast Division-leading Boston as Miller made 18 of his 38 saves in the third period. That came two nights after last season’s Vezina Trophy winner stopped 29 shots in a 2-1 overtime victory over Montreal.
Miller’s confidence is building and he feels Buffalo can capitalize on the next three games before taking a break for the All-Star game on Jan. 30. After hosting New York (14-24-7), the Sabres will visit Long Island on Sunday before facing last-place Ottawa on Tuesday. Completing that stretch unbeaten would give Buffalo its longest winning streak since a six-game run Dec. 27, 2009-Jan. 8, 2010.
“Up until the All-Star break we’ve got to run the table to be around where we want to be,” Miller said. “That first half of the season, we had some efforts that I thought were pretty good but we weren’t getting the rewards. That’s a frustrating feeling. So it’s been good to get that positive feeling.”
Miller has started 37 of 46 games and should add to that Friday. He wasn’t very sharp against the Islanders on Saturday, making 32 saves in a 5-3 road loss. However, he’s won eight of nine against them at home, including four in a row behind a 2.21 goals-against average with one shutout.
Thomas Vanek has five goals and nine assists in the last nine games, getting two points in each of the last four. The left wing’s 18 goals and 39 points lead the team, and he’s accumulated four goals and six assists in nine home meetings with New York.
“We need him to produce. There’s no getting around it,” Miller said. “It’s good to see him getting pucks to the net.”
The Sabres have won eight of the last 10 meetings with the Islanders at HSBC Arena.
John Tavares is looking for another big performance against Buffalo after recording a hat trick Saturday, capping an eight-game stretch where he totaled eight goals and four assists. The Islanders have lost twice since, and the 20-year-old center doesn’t have a point while coming up empty on five shots in a 2-1 loss to Washington on Thursday.
Tavares has five goals and one assist in five meetings with the Sabres, while Kyle Okposo has five assists in his last six.
Okposo returned from right shoulder surgery Thursday, and didn’t get a point in his season debut. He was second on the team with a career-high 52 points in 2009-10.
The Islanders have allowed opponents to score first in eight straight games.
Updated January 21, 2011
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