The Buffalo Sabres are first in their division with a 7-1-1 record, first in the league with average shots per game (36), and have won every game in which the opposition out-shot them. Ryan Miller also holds the best goals against average (1.60) and save percentage (0.944) in the NHL. The Leafs visit them tonight in an effort to try and ruin many of those stats.
Ron Wilson was interviewed again this morning after the skate in Buffalo. He understands how talented Ryan Miller is, thanks to his knowledge of NHL goaltenders, but also from spending time with him during the Team USA Olympic camp this summer.
“Ryan [Miller] is a great goalie and he’s played very well this year. We have to create traffic and get pucks to the net and we have to really work for every goal we score. We expect him to be one of our goalies [for team USA], if not the starting goalie based on what he’s done in the last couple of years.”
The Leafs have demoted Viktor Stalberg in order to take a closer look at Marlies elitist, Jiri Tlusty. While Ron Wilson isn’t expecting an offensive explosion from the young forward, he does request consistency with his work ethic and imagination with the puck.
“If he can play the way he’s played at the end of last year and the beginning of this year and play that way up here and bring the same confidence up here then there’s no reason to believe he can’t become a full time NHLer,” said Wilson. “It’s not fair to say he’s a goal scorer, meaning he has to score every game, nobody does that in our league. We just want him to get out there and make plays and be creative, and if he does that, he’ll stay.”
Ron Wilson also addressed his recent powerplay improvement, as well as his defense core. He feels the more his current pairings play together, the better the Leafs specialty teams will perform.
“You know, we had one game that’s allowed us to get up there just as you can have a bad game on the penalty kill and drop like a lead balloon. Our powerplay has been pretty consistent, and I’d like to see us getting more chances to use our powerplay. If we can get 5 or 6 a night, that would be good for us,” said Wilson. “[The defense] are moving the puck better, simple and that comes from confidence and getting to know each other. We’ve adjusted the pairings and they’ve settled in a little. We still need to concentrate on making the first pass out of the zone.”
Jonas Gustavsson will be starting tonight, while Vesa Toskala will make his return debut tomorrow night in Montreal. Jiri Tlusty will take Stalberg’s place along the top line.
Ron Wilson also dismissed rumors of Phil Kessel returning tomorrow night, and while many media reports are suggesting his return is still up in the air, Kessel is expected to make his debut on Tuesday night when the Leafs host the Tampa Bay Lightning at the ACC.
“I feel pretty good,” Kessel stated following practice. “But until I get out there and play in a game I have no idea how I’ll be out there. Obviously you don’t want to come back too early and re-injure it. I don’t want to be out another six months so I’m going to take my time and whenever (the team doctors) clear me and say I’m ready to go, I’ll be ready.”
It’s certainly an exciting few games ahead for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Fans are eager to see what the team can make of it.
I will be liveblogging tonight’s game on TheScore.com. If you cannot watch the game, feel free to join me in the liveblog discussion on your mobile application.
Micheal A. Aldred