Leafs Take On Hot Miller In Buffalo
Friday, 12.18.2009 / 7:30 PM
MAPLE LEAFS (12-15-7) at SABRES (20-10-2)
Last 10: Toronto 6-4-0; Buffalo 7-3-0
Season series: Third of six meetings this season between Northeast Division rivals. The Sabres have taken the first two matchups. Tim Connolly scored on a power play 1:04 into overtime on Oct. 30 to give them a 3-2 win in Buffalo. Ryan Miller stopped all 38 shots he faced at Air Canada Centre exactly one month later in a 3-0 victory.
Big story: There seems to be little question Miller has earned the right to start for the U.S. in the upcoming Olympic Games, what with his service time in the NHL and the stellar play this season that has made him a frontrunner for the Vezina Trophy. But the people who will be making the decisions for Team USA, Brian Burke and Ron Wilson, also happen to be GM and coach, respectively, of the Leafs. Does that give Miller any special incentive to put on a show when these teams meet? After the last game in Toronto, the Leafs certainly seemed to believe it.
"Their goalie over there has stolen two games against us," forward Matt Stajan said. "I don't know what it is. Maybe his Team U.S. coach and GM are on our side, he wants to prove something? I don't know what it is, but he's one of the best and you've got to give him credit."
Maple Leafs: After winning six of its first eight games in December and eight of 11 overall, Toronto was cooled off a bit Wednesday in a 6-3 loss to Phoenix that ended its ACC winning streak at four games. The Coyotes raced out to a 5-1 lead by late in the second period and held off the Leafs from there.
"They were kind of swarming everywhere, in our zone and their zone, and they made us look pretty bad," defenseman Jeff Finger told the Toronto Star. "It's difficult to bring it maybe mentally every single night like we have been. It was a letdown, bottom line."
Sabres: Miller leads the League in goals-against average and save percentage and is tied for the lead in shutouts, but on Wednesday he was outdone by his counterpart on Ottawa, Brian Elliott. The second-year netminder turned away all 22 Buffalo shots, defeating the Sabres, 2-0.
"Not real impressive on our part," Miller said. "Ottawa played a pretty solid game, but we've got to be better. … I don't think we generated enough on the front end. They put a game plan together and did it a little bit better than us."
Who's hot: The Leafs' top line continues to click. Forward Matt Stajan has two goals and six points over the last three games. Phil Kessel has three goals and five points and Alexei Ponikarovsky has two goals and five points during that span.
While the Sabres were blanked against the Senators, forward Patrick Kaleta had three goals in the two games before that, including shorthanders against both the Rangers and Canadiens.
Injury report: Toronto will get goalie Jonas Gustavsson back after he missed a couple weeks following a procedure to fix an elevated heart rate. The rookie will dress as Vesa Toskala's backup. Forward John Mitchell and defensemen Carl Gunnarsson and Mike Van Ryn are on injured reserve.
Buffalo will also get back a player, as forward Paul Gaustad returns after missing 10 games with a leg injury. However, they could be without Kaleta. He missed practice Thursday with what coach Lindy Ruff termed a stiff neck after a check into the boards by Ottawa's Jarkko Ruutu, who earned a five-minute major on the play. Forward Nathan Gerbe (groin) is also a question mark. Defenseman Chris Butler (ankle) will not play.
Stat pack: It's been all or nothing for the Sabres of late offensively. They've won eight of their last 12, averaging 3.8 goals in the victories but getting shut out by the Capitals, Devils and Senators and going 59 minutes without a goal in the other loss to the Rangers.
Puck drop: In addition to Gustavsson's return, the Leafs have called up forward Viktor Stalberg and will dress defenseman Luke Schenn, who had been a healthy scratch for the past three games.
"We want to have options," Wilson told the Toronto Star in regards to Stalberg's recall. "We have 12 forwards right now and our team is a little bit tired. We've had so many games and not enough time to practice and I want a little more speed in the lineup, especially with a couple of games this weekend."