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Islanders set to host Sabres for a three-game series at Nassau Coliseum

Sabres forward Cody Eakin and Islanders forward Brock

Sabres forward Cody Eakin and Islanders forward Brock Nelson on Feb. 16. Credit: AP / Jeffrey T. Barnes

It’ll be the Sabres, and then the Sabres, and then the Sabres.

The streaking Islanders open a five-game homestand with the first of three straight games against, yes, the Sabres, on Thursday night at Nassau Coliseum.

The NHL has changed its scheduling to navigate a shortened, 56-game season and limit travel during the COVID-19 pandemic by having its teams often play multi-game series in one city. The Islanders have already played seven two-game series but this will be their first of four three-game series, including three in March.

Thursday’s game was originally supposed to be played on Feb. 4 but a COVID outbreak forced the Sabres to shut down for two weeks.

Still, coach Barry Trotz said planning for a three-game series is no different than two in a row or a single game.

"The same way," Trotz said after the Islanders’ 2-1 road win over the Devils on Tuesday night. "It’s an opponent and we have to collect the points. That’s plain and simple. It’s one period at a time. You want to start with the first period."

The Islanders, who did not practice on Wednesday, have been collecting points with consistency.

Tuesday’s win was their second straight and extended their point streak to 4-0-1. The Islanders are 9-2-4 since Jan. 30.

"This league tests you," Trotz said. "You can’t dominate teams. You can dominate them for stretches. Your team gets a push and then the other team is going to have a push. How you manage their best — it might be half a period, it might be five minutes, it might be a couple of shifts — if you don’t manage them very well then you probably give up too much and then you’re chasing the game a little bit.

"We’re learning to manage our not-so-good moments and we’re taking advantage of our good moments."

Rookie Oliver Wahlstrom has certainly provided some of those good moments with three goals and three assists in a career-high five-game point streak, including the opening goal against the Devils on Tuesday at 1:10 of the third period.

But Wahlstrom preferred to speak about the enjoyment he’s taking from the "little details" in his game (read: improved defensive play) rather than his offensive production.

That thrilled Trotz, who said playing in Sweden while the NHL season was delayed until January and having Jean-Gabriel Pageau as a linemate has benefitted Wahlstrom.

"Music to my ears, actually," Trotz said. "He started to learn. The best thing you can do is be able to play on both sides of the puck and that’s how you earn ice time. He’s finding that being on the right side of pucks and being in the right position, he’s getting more offense out of it. Instead of waiting for the puck to come to him, he’s part of the solution of getting it back so you have it more.

"I think his participation in the game as a complete hockey player has come miles from where it was the last two years."

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