The two Northeast Division rivals enter their game Saturday at the Air Canada Centre with one team looking to sustain its momentum and the other trying to regain it.
The Maple Leafs (19-17-6) put together their most complete road game of the season with a 10-2 thrashing of the Boston Bruins on Thursday to complete a home-and-home sweep. Alexander Steen, who had just 10 points in his first 41 games, had his first career hat trick and added two assists for a career-high five-point game as the Maple Leafs scored nine unanswered goals in the final two periods.
“There has never been a doubt about his (Steen) talent,” Maple Leafs coach Paul Maurice said. “There were questions to other parts of his game, but he has worked hard to improve those.”
Steen, a first-round pick by the Leafs in 2002, had not had a multipoint game this season and had totaled just two goals in his previous eight games before Thursday’s scoring binge. The 22-year-old center scored four goals in his first three games against the Sabres as a rookie last season but has only four assists in his last six against them.
Matthew Stajan added two goals and two assists, ending a six-game stretch without a point, and recorded his first multigoal game since Oct. 12.
Buffalo (29-9-3) is trying to avoid its first three-game losing streak of the season after a 4-2 loss to Pittsburgh on Friday. Derek Roy and Chris Drury scored goals for the Sabres, who failed to bounce back from a 6-3 loss to Ottawa on Wednesday.
“What you need to guard against is letting that frustration affect how hard you work on the ice,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said.
The Sabres also might need to improve their penalty killing. After allowing just one power-play goal in 21 opportunities over a six-game stretch during which they went 5-0-1, the Sabres have allowed five man-advantage goals in nine penalty kills in the two most recent losses.
Additionally, Buffalo was without defenseman Henrik Tallinder, who suffered a sprained ankle in Wednesday’s defeat and is expected to be sidelined at least two weeks.
Sabres leading scorer Daniel Briere assisted on Drury’s goal to give him 47 points for the season, but the center has just two goals in his last 14 games following a hat trick at Tampa Bay on Dec. 5. Briere, though, has a six-game points streak against the Maple Leafs, totaling three goals and five assists in that span.
The teams have split two games—both played in Buffalo—thus far. Briere snapped a 4-all tie with 5:19 to play before Jason Pominville and Drury added empty-net goals in a 7-4 victory Nov. 22. Darcy Tucker scored two goals for the Maple Leafs, who squandered an early 2-0 lead before rallying from two goals down to tie the game at 4 late in the second period.