It’s Nazem Kadri night at the ACC. Not really, but everyone will be keeping an eye on the 21-year-old as he makes his return to the Maple Leafs lineup for his first appearance since a three-game stint in late October.
Kadri will be playing the right wing, with Connolly at center and MacAthur on his opposite board, as the Leafs roll three scoring lines tonight against the visiting Sabres.
Buffalo is one point back of the Leafs for second in Northeast Division and seventh in the East. A Leaf loss to the Sabres tonight combined with a Senators win over Florida would drop the Leafs down to fourth in the division, and out of a playoff spot. Too early to scoreboard and standings watch, perhaps, but this is an important four-point game against a division rival and a likely competitor for those late playoff seeds come March and April.
The results of this back to back set tonight against Buffalo and tomorrow on Long Island will go a long way in determining how good the Leafs can feel about themselves entering the Christmas break. Regardless of how tight or subject to change the standings may be, sitting fourth in the division and out of the top eight in the Conference would leave a pretty bad taste in the mouths of all involved after what was such a promising start to the 2011-12 season.
The Leafs badly need to improve their divisional record, which currently stands at 3-7. They’re 2-0 against the last placed Montreal Canadiens and a combined 1-7 against the Bruins, Sabres, and Senators.
These two teams last met six days ago in Buffalo, when the Leafs shot themselves in the foot with a rash of penalties that put their penalty killing ineptitude on full display. Losing the special teams battle 3-1 proved to be the difference in a high scoring 5-4 loss between two teams who score a lot but let in even more. James Reimer didn’t have his best game in net, either. He’ll get the start tonight after a good rebound performance against the Kings on Monday. Gustavsson will be in net tomorrow on Long Island.