Leafs, Sabres look to get back on track
SABRES (16-14-3) at MAPLE LEAFS (16-13-4)
TV: MSG-Buffalo, LEAFS TV
Buffalo 3-5-2; Toronto 3-5-2
The Sabres lead the season series 1-0 after taking the first meeting between the division rivals, a 5-4 win in Buffalo on Dec. 16.
Buffalo was a team with high expectations when the season began and after a strong burst to start the campaign Toronto was a team thinking the same time. The division rivals have fallen on hard times, however, combining for a grand total of three regulation wins in their last 20 games. If either the Sabres or Maple Leafs want to snap their respective funks and get their house in order, kicking a direct competitor while it's down may be the best way.
Need a reason why the Sabres might be struggling? How about injuries. With the slew of players they've lost in the last five weeks alone it may be time for Buffalo General Hospital to name a ward after Sabres' owner Terry Pegula. Since Nov. 20 alone, Buffalo has lost Tyler Myers
(broken wrist), Brad Boyes
(knee), Patrick Kaleta
(groin), Nathan Gerbe
(concussion), Corey Tropp
(upper body), Ville Leino
(lower body) and Colin Stuart
That type of injury-depleted lineup would be enough to sideline just about any team, but the Sabres' issues in net aren't helping either. Typically one of the best goalies in the League, Ryan Miller
has struggled in mighty fashion this year. His marks on the season are an unflattering 3.12 goals-against average and .904 save percentage. His struggles have been even more pronounced lately, as Miller has given up a total of 15 goals in his last four appearances.
With just six points in the standings in their last nine games, the Leafs' struggles are starting to garner attention, particularly in the enhanced media market of Toronto. After a tremendous opening month and a half to 2011-12, the Leafs have fallen behind the Bruins, who have looked better than just about every team in the League since the calendar turned to November, and as a result, Toronto has dropped from first place to nine points back of the first-place B's.
With Toronto clinging to its place in the top eight, the Leafs need a boost to get their confidence back, and it may come in the form of 2009 first-round draft pick Nazem Kadri, who has been called up from the AHL and will play Thursday night. Kadri hasn't yet fulfilled expectations in the NHL -- he had just 1 assist during a three-game cup of coffee earlier this season -- but he has flourished in the minors, scoring 8 goals and adding 14 assists in 22 games this fall.
Tyler Bozak has quietly begun lighting it up for Toronto, netting 1 goal and adding 4 assists in his last three games. … Thomas Vanek
has continued to keep his impressive scoring pace this year, tallying 6 points in the last three games.
In addition to the rest of its injury ward, Buffalo may also be without Jochen Hecht
(lower body) and Tyler Ennis
(left ankle), who are considered questionable. … Toronto may be without David Steckel, who is questionable with bronchitis. In addition, Colby Armstrong (concussion) and Philippe Dupuis (upper body) were placed on injured reserve this week.
Buffalo's biggest issue this season might be its struggles at home. The Sabres are currently under .500 at the First Niagara Center, a feat they haven't "accomplished" in a full season since the days of the Adams Division.
The one bit of good news for the Sabres? Despite all their troubles they're just one point back of Toronto and have more regulation and overtime wins. Given the amount of time left this season and the massive logjam in the Eastern Conference playoff race, however, anything is still possible, and for either Toronto or Buffalo to solidify its position, there is no time like the present to start.