Sabres-Maple Leafs Preview
By JON PALMIERI STATS Editor
Buffalo (13-26-5) at Toronto (22-20-5), 7:30 p.m. EDT
It’s been nearly two months since the Toronto Maple Leafs won back-to-back games in regulation.
Their next opponent would appear to give them an excellent chance at ending that drought.
The Maple Leafs seek to match a season high with their third straight victory Wednesday night when the league-worst Buffalo Sabres visit.
After needing another shootout to beat New Jersey on Sunday and end a four-game losing streak, Toronto (23-20-5) held on for a 4-3 victory in Boston on Tuesday. The top line of Tyler Bozak, Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk combined for three goals and five assists to lift the Maple Leafs to only their third regulation win in 27 games.
“I think both teams played hard, and lots of hitting in that game,” goalie Jonathan Bernier said. “When we get skating and we hit a lot, I think we get a lot of energy from our bench and we play very well.”
Toronto, which had recorded four of its previous five victories in shootouts, last won consecutive games in regulation Nov. 16-19.
The four goals marked the Maple Leafs’ best output in seven games, but it was also the seventh time in eight contests they were outshot. They rank last in the league in shots allowed, yielding 36.5 per game.
That porous defense usually means a busy night for either Bernier, who made 38 saves Tuesday, or James Reimer. Bernier has seen most of the playing time lately but coach Randy Carlyle could give Reimer just his second start this month in the second of this back-to-back.
Reimer allowed six goals on 36 shots in his lone January start, a 6-1 loss at Carolina on Thursday. He is 6-2-2 lifetime against the Sabres despite a 3.27 goals-against average, while Bernier is 1-3-0 with a 3.22 GAA.
Whichever goalie is between the pipes, he will be facing the league’s worst offense (1.7 goals per game) and one of the NHL’s worst teams in shots per contest (26.1).
Buffalo (13-27-5) managed only 19 shots in Tuesday’s 4-3 loss to Philadelphia, allowing the winning goal with 15 seconds left. Cody Hodgson and Matt D’Agostini each had a goal and assist for the Sabres, who entered with points in three straight.
“Missed assignments, not determined enough to battle for the puck, spinning and turning off hits, not getting an inch in the lanes, all of the above,” interim coach Ted Nolan said, assessing what went wrong. “We just didn’t do what we were supposed to do at the end.”
Although the trip to Toronto is a very short one, playing in opposing arenas has been a major problem for the Sabres. They avoided a team record-tying 12th straight road loss with a 2-1 shootout victory at Washington on Sunday, and have just one regulation win away from home all season.
Playing at Air Canada Centre isn’t likely to help, either. The Sabres are 1-7-1 in their last nine visits after losing both meetings there this season.
They figure to have red-hot Ryan Miller back in net, though, after he received a rare night off Tuesday. Miller is 7-2-1 with a 1.64 GAA in his last 10 starts. He stopped 39 shots in a 4-3 shootout loss at Toronto on Dec. 27.
Buffalo defenseman Tyler Myers is eligible to return Wednesday after sitting out the third and final game of his suspension for an illegal check to the head of New Jersey forward Dainius Zubrus.