Hot Sabres look to make it six over Leafs
MAPLE LEAFS (1-7-2) at SABRES (7-1-1)
-- First meeting this year, but the Sabres hold a five-game winning streak over their Northeast Division rivals, two at home and three at the Air Canada Centre. The last win for the Leafs was on Dec. 12, 2008, a 2-1 victory in Buffalo.
-- No question it's Buffalo's perfect three-game road trip, capped off with a solid 4-1 effort over the Devils at the Rock Wednesday night. The Sabres allowed two goals or fewer in each game on the trip.
-- They only have one win to show for it, but the last four games have shown a clear improvement for the Leafs. The offense broke out in their 6-3 win over the Ducks, but another solid effort in Dallas was overshadowed by a 4-3 overtime loss.
One reason the Leafs are playing with more confidence is that Jonas Gustavsson
is back in nets after missing time with a groin injury.
"He's played very well, kind of the way we've expected him to play," coach Ron Wilson said Thursday. "You see us being a little more confident in how we play when we know we're getting big saves back there at the right time."
With Vesa Toskala coming off IR, however, the question becomes when to rest Gustavsson.
"I don't really know, we'll decide after the game whether he'll play in Montreal," Wilson said. "I mean, Vesa's rarin' to go too so it might be a good time for Vesa to get in there and keep Jonas from playing back to back this early in his comeback. Three games in four nights is a lot.
"If this is a (goaltender) controversy, there's 10 times as much controversy in other cities when it comes to goaltenders."
-- The 10-game mark was an important one for 19-year-old defenseman Tyler Myers. It's the point when his three-year rookie contract kicks in, and management had the option of sending him back to his junior team in Kelowna.
But he has two goals and three assists in his first nine games, plus a highlight-reel shootout goal in the Sabres' 3-2 win at Tampa Saturday night. So important to the team's early success he was that Sabres management is willing to put up with the fact that free agency will come a year earlier for him than other members of his draft class.
"He should play here," Buffalo defenseman Henrik Tallinder said. "I'm really amazed with his poise with the puck. It's unbelievable for his age, 19. You don't see veteran guys have that."
Tallinder compared the 6-foot-8 Myers to another tall defenseman, Boston's 6-foot-9 Zdeno Chara.
"Not even close. I still don't think Chara has the same movements as this kid has," Tallinder said. "It's scary how good he's going to be."
-- With the 31-save performance in New Jersey, Sabres goalie Ryan Miller is 7-0-1 with a 1.60 GAA on the season. Even better, he has a 1.20 GAA in Buffalo's five straight wins over the Leafs.
Toronto's Jason Blake turned in his best game of the year in Dallas with three assists. Niklas Hagman had the hat trick in Anaheim, of course, but he has a total of four goals and one assist in his last five games.
-- Sabres defenseman Andrej Sekera is close to returning from the rib injury he suffered Oct. 10 in Nashville. "There's a chance for the weekend," coach Lindy Ruff said. "We'll just have to see." Defenseman Toni Lydman suffered a setback with his groin injury in practice on Monday and missed Wednesday's game in New Jersey. Leafs right winger Phil Kessel
(shoulder) is on track for a Nov. 3 return.
-- For a team with only one win so far this season, the Maple Leafs lead the NHL in power-play percentage at 30.77 percent. By stark contrast, their penalty kill is worst in the league by several percentage points at 63.41 percent. Only the Ducks have allowed more power-play goals than Toronto's 15.
-- It'll be a true measure of whether the Leafs are about to turn the corner as they continue their road trip against one of the League's hottest teams.
-- Matt Mankiewich, NHL.com