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Game Preview: Sparks recalled, backing up McElhinney against Buffalo

No Matthews, Andersen, Eichel, Okposo. Exciting.

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Buffalo Sabres
Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Curtis McElhinney (35) tends net as Buffalo Sabres center Sam Reinhart (23) skates with the puck during the second period at KeyBank Center.
Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Maple Leafs vs. Sabres : Game # 71

Time: 7:00 PM EDT
Location: KeyBank Center, Buffalo
Broadcast: TSN4, MSG - Buffalo

Opponent SBNation Site: Die By The Blade

The Maple Leafs are travelling down the QEW to their second home without goaltender Frederik Andersen. Freddy suffered an “upper-body injury” during last night’s game against the Dallas Stars. The supposed incident was when Roman Polak pushed Alex Radulov onto Freddy during a battle in front.

As a result, Garret Sparks was called up to the big club for the first time since April 9th, 2017. That night, the Leafs played Game 82 against the Columbus Blue Jackets, one day after Connor Brown and Curtis McElhinney combined to clinch the first playoff berth in four years for the Leafs in the win over Pittsburgh.

Okay, let’s rip the band-aid. The last time these two teams met, Leo Komarov scored twice, Matt Martin looked like an All-Star, and the Leafs lost their fourth in a row. The Sabres were able to jump to a 2-0 lead early in the game, forcing the Leafs to play catch-up for the rest of the night.

Since that game, the Leafs have played two hard-fought games against a couple of challenging teams in the Stars and Pens. They won’t come out flat on the second half of a back-to-back against a team at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, right?

Toronto Maple Leafs

Forward Lines

Zach Hyman - William Nylander - Mitchell Marner
Patrick Marleau - Nazem Kadri - Leo Komarov
James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - Connor Brown
Andreas Johnsson - Tomas Plekanec - Kasperi Kapanen

Not Playing: Josh Leivo, Matt Martin, Dominic Moore.

Defence Pairings

Morgan Rielly - Ron Hainsey
Jake Gardiner - Roman Polak
Travis Dermott - Connor Carrick


Curtis McElhinney
Garret Sparks

Buffalo Sabres

Forward Lines

Scott Wilson - Ryan O’Reilly - Sam Reinhart
Benoit Pouliot - Johan Larsson - Jason Pominville
Zemgus Girgensons - Evan Rodrigues - Nick Baptiste
Jordan Nolan - Jacob Josefson - Jordan Nolan

Defence Pairings

Marco Scandella - Rasmus Ristolainen
Brendan Ghule - Casey Nelson
Viktor Antipin - Justin Falk
Josh Gorges


Robin Lehner - projected starter
Chad Johnson

2015 second-overall pick Jack Eichel has been skating and is close to a return but it will not be tonight against the Leafs. Evander Kane was traded to San Jose, and Kyle Okposo remains out indefinitely with a concussion leaving the already barren Sabres forward group with a serious lack of fire-power.

And do we even have to talk about their defense? Top left-defenseman Marco Scandella reportedly wasn’t at morning skate and the group that was left behind to skate rushes was...something.

For the Leafs, Mike Babcock was forced to run his horses for the majority of last night’s game where his team was trailing for the majority of it. Babcock was asked about Andreas Johnsson’s play and simply said, “He didn’t get as much opportunity because we were chasing the game.” Johnsson only played 7:34, and his linemates Kasperi Kapanen and Tomas Plekanec only played about nine minutes as well.

Babcock went on to say, “When I’m ahead and managing the game, I play everybody and everyone plays lots. When you’re chasing the game, I’m just playing who I gotta play.” This was clear in the boxscore as Mitchell Marner, Nazem Kadri, James van Reimsdyk, Tyler Bozak, and Patrick Marleau all played over 18 minutes. On the second half of a back-to-back, the emphasis must be on getting a lead early and cycling through the bench so no one gets hurt because they played too much.

C’mon. It’s Buffalo.

Update, it seems like someone else like Matt Martin in the last Buffalo game, too: