Toronto will begin the second half of their schedule with a tilt against the Buffalo Sabres this Tuesday night. Â While they’ve often proved to be more than the Leafs can handle in recent years, the Sabres limp into tonight’s game having won just two of their last ten games. Â That being said, I know a number of diehard Buffalo fans that believe in one simple fact: if there is any team that the Sabres consistently get psyched to play, it’s the Leafs. Â It should be a fast, tight, and exciting match at the Air Canada Centre as Ryan Miller faces off against Jonas Gustavsson.
Toronto players have been confident recently, with a number of quotes indicating their belief that if they play their game, they will win. Â Regardless of who they face. Â Unfortunately, Miller and a number of the Sabres almost never fail to display a higher level of motivation when they play Toronto. Â The key will be for the Leafs to dictate play early and often. Â In years past (especially when in Buffalo), the hype and tension would get to the heads of Toronto’s teams. Â We’ve witnessed a variety of Buffalo blowouts, Miller stonewalls, or heartbreaking losses.
New blood and determination in the form of players such as Joffrey Lupul and Dion Phaneuf seems to have shaken this disturbing trend. Â Really, a consistent effort and the fact that the circumstances of this rivalvry are new for some of these players is to thank for the course correction against the Slugs. Â Nevertheless, the Sabres have some potent offensive weapons in Vanek and Pominville, and a goalie that can turn in a dominating performance on any given night. Â However, the Leafs should be aware that said dominating performances by Miller have been few and far between this season. Â Moreover, apart from Vanek and Pominville, Buffalo’s offense has been scarce, and especially dismal in their recent skid.
Toronto’s efforts early on can set the tone for not only this game, but the upcoming match in Buffalo (Friday) as well. Â Divisional play will be ramped up in our second-half schedule as a whole, and it will be important for the Leafs to capitalize and kick their rivals when they’re down. Â Phil Kessel has been hot against both the Sabres and the league-at-large. Â Look for a big game from the star sniper in front of the home crowd tonight.