The New York Islanders' response to Chris Simon's latest on-ice transgression seemed to suggest they're now used to such actions. They'll look to minimize the distraction from another lengthy suspension for the rugged forward when they host the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday.
The Islanders and Simon agreed Monday that he should go on a paid leave of absence after taking down and stomping on Pittsburgh's Jarkko Ruutu, drawing a match penalty for intent to injure, in New York's 3-2 loss Saturday. Simon was playing in only his 26th game since sitting out the season's first five contests while completing a 25-game suspension, levied for his stick attack on the New York Rangers' Ryan Hollweg on March 8.
That was his sixth NHL suspension, at the time a league record, and Simon broke that mark Wednesday when he was banned 30 games for the attack on Ruutu.
"Since Saturday night, the focus of the New York Islanders has been on Chris Simon the person, not him as a player or on his place in our lineup," Islanders general manager Garth Snow said in a statement confirming the suspension.
"As we announced on Monday, the Islanders are going to provide Chris the time and support he needs for counseling. For Chris right now, hockey must be secondary to the priority of taking care of himself."
New York (15-14-2) is hoping to limit the impact of Simon's transgression and keep its focus as it tries to make a move in the Atlantic Division. While the Islanders are a game above .500, they're in last place in the tightly bunched division and have been unable to put together a sustained run of late. New York hasn't won two in a row since Nov. 16 and 19.
The Isles, who have alternated wins and losses in their last four games, have an NHL-low 71 goals. They haven't scored more than three in a game since Nov. 1.
The Sabres (16-14-1) are also in last with 33 points in the Northeast Division, but are looking to win four straight games since a season-high five-game run from Nov. 16-26. Buffalo has been unable to climb out of the cellar despite going 10-4-0 in their last 14 contests.
"We're taking more pride in playing defensively and blocking shots," left wing Thomas Vanek said. "I think it's paying off."
The Sabres' three-game win streak began last Wednesday with a 5-3 home win over the Islanders, the teams' first meeting since New York opened the season with a home-and-home sweep of Buffalo.
"We have to be able to win those tight ones," forward Jason Pominville said after the Sabres' 3-1 victory over Chicago on Saturday. "That's usually the sign of a good time. It's not every night you'll be able to score five or six goals."
The Sabres hope Maxim Afinogenov can continue to emerge from his offensive funk Wednesday, as he has a goal and three assists during the three-game win streak. Afinogenov has managed just five goals and 10 assists in 31 games, a season after recording 17 goals and 23 assists during the first 31 contests.
The right wing has six goals and 11 assists in 25 games against the Islanders.