First Niagara Center; Buffalo, New York
7:00 p.m. ET; Sportsnet (National)
OPPOSING SBN PERSPECTIVE: Die By The Blade
The Leafs roll into Buffalo to play a home game in their second home arena. The process has been there for the Leafs, but the results haven't. The team is 1-3-1, though only one of those losses was an ugly one. The remaining three have been respectable efforts decided by one goal (notwithstanding empty-netters). It's hard to be disappointed; the only goal for this season was to improve the way the team plays. The Leafs have done that so far. Losing a lot of close games for lack of offense was to be expected.
The Leafs will face a team in the Sabres that, while not good, have reason for optimism. For one thing, the Sabres could not be much worse than the past couple seasons. While a playoff spot is not likely, improvement over two consecutive 52-point seasons is to be expected. More significantly, Buffalo made substantial improvements to their offense with the additions of Evander Kane and Ryan O'Reilly. They also drafted some kid named Jack Eichel or something. He'll be okay, I guess.
While the Sabres offense has high expectations, it has not delivered thus far. The Sabres have scored 9 goals in 5 games, which is about the same goals per game clip (1.80) as last season (1.87). Three of those nine goals have come from Eichel (2) and O'Reilly (1). That said, 5 games is a dangerously small sample size and this is a much better offense than the 2014-15 iteration of this team offered. They will break out soon, and Toronto is a prime candidate for this to happen against.
The Sabres suffered a setback in losing starting goaltender Robin Lehner for 6-10 weeks. While Bylsma has not named a starter for this game, it is likely that Chad Johnson (1-4-0, .896) gets the nod. Babcock has confirmed that Jonathan Bernier (0-3-0, .900) will start. This will be a major advantage for the Leafs, as Johnson has been underwhelming. Bernier, despite one ugly game and some iffy goals, has posted a couple solid starts. He was .939 against the Penguins on Saturday.
In other news, the Leafs face an old friend in Cody Franson, who signed with the Sabres in the offseason. Also, they've unveiled a goal song which is, bar none, the best in the league.
Players to Watch
For the Leafs: Leo Komarov has been excellent since being placed on a line with James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak. While he failed to convert on several great chances against Ottawa, he has since scored 3 goals in 2 games.
For the Sabres: Without a doubt, Eichel. He was touted as a generational talent, and will play his first ever game against the Leafs. He has 2 goals (and 2 points) in 5 GP this season.
Projected Leafs Lineup
Per Mark Masters, Bozak is day-to-day with an injury. The projected lines are based on the lines on Tuesday's practice, per Paul Hendrick. After it was thought Frank Corrado might make his Leafs debut it turns out Martin Marincin would draw into the lineup instead. Jake Gardiner is sidelined with an injury.
van Riemsdyk - Kadri - Komarov
Matthias - Holland - Boyes
Winnik - Spaling - Lupul
Grabner - Arcobello - Parenteau
Hunwick - Rielly
Marincin - Phaneuf
Polak - Harrington
Projected Buffalo Lineup
Based on the Sabres lines at Tuesday practice, per the team's Twitter account. Franson had a maintenance day on Monday, but was back with the team Tuesday.
Sam Reinhart - Ryan O'Reilly - Tyler Ennis
Evander Kane - Jack Eichel - Jamie McGinn
Matt Moulson - Zemgus Girgensons - Brian Gionta
Nic Deslauriers - David Legwand - Marcus Foligno
Josh Gorges - Rasmus Ristolainen
Jake McCabe - Mark Pysyk
Mike Weber - Cody Franson
Key to the Game
Puck possession. The Leafs have made major strides in this under Babcock, but given the dearth of offensive talent, it has not yielded much in the way of results. The Sabres are just the team the Leafs need to capitalize their opportunities against. Johnson is not a good goalie, and this is almost the exact same defense that played for a 52-point team last season. The Leafs need to control the puck, get in the attacking zone, and get to Buffalo's D and Johnson early, and they need to do it often.
The Leafs could very well win this game. Even if they don't, you'll get to hear that cool goal song a lot. So, at least there's that?