The post-deadline pursuit of Boston for second in the division and home-ice in the playoffs begins tonight as the Toronto Maple Leafs welcome the Buffalo Sabres to Scotiabank Arena (7 p.m, TSN4).
First, the deadline impacts on the respective lineups: New addition Brandon Montour is not going to suit up for the Sabres tonight, but they will have Kyle Okposo return after ten days on the shelf due to injury. Okopso will draw in alongside Evan Rodrigues and Conor Sheary, while Sabres have also gone back to their loaded-up top line of Jeff Skinner, Jack Eichel, and Sam Reinhart.
For the Leafs, Nic Petan won’t play, but Trevor Moore will step in for the departed Par Lindholm. Moore has been impressive in his seven games with the Leafs this year and has earned an extended look. The Marlies leading scorer plays with NHL pace, is competitive over 200 feet of the ice, and has already matched Lindholm’s season-long goals output in just seven appearances while outpacing him points wise. The move should improve the Leafs‘ bottom line a fair bit, whether it’s Moore or Petan in the lineup. The Leafs will have to fill the gap on Lindholm’s penalty-killing duties, but this feels like a step in the right direction for making the Leafs a better four-line team without giving up anything in the way of roster assets (Lindholm is arguably sub-replacement-level) or futures.
The Sabres have (predictably) returned to earth since the last time these two teams met; they are 11-18-5 since their 10-game winning streak ended in November. There are a few Sabres on a heater, though: Jack Eichel — who always gets up for these games against the Matthews and the Leafs — leads the team with 12 points in his last ten, while Sam Reinhart sits at a point-per-game over that stretch. The latter has been driving play quite well for Buffalo lately — he’s first in shot attempt share and second in scoring chance share among regular forwards.
Before things went south in the first period against Montreal, the Leafs were off to a great start to the game. They had 12 shot attempts in the first eight minutes of the game, but Montreal was clearly energized by Andrew Shaw’s 1-0 goal and built up a 3-0 lead before the end of the first. The comeback the Leafs mounted over the final 40 minutes was one Kyle Dubas cited today as a clear sign of the team’s talent, character, and resiliency. If the Leafs can keep their three top lines rolling like they were on Saturday, it’s hard for most NHL clubs to stack up, let alone a Sabres team that’s lacking in depth at forward.
Game Day Quotes
Mike Babcock with an update on Kadri and Nylander at center:
Is he playing? No. I haven’t seen him on the ice yet. I keep waiting for those mountains up and down, starting and stopping, but he’s not ready for that yet. Before he’s playing, he’s got to do all those things and get himself going again. In the meantime though, we talk about this every time: Your lineup’s not going to be as good without key players, there’s no question about it, but it’s a great opportunity for other people. It’s great for Willy because of the fact that you have to play two-hundred feet and compete defensively.
Babcock on if the trade deadline is a distraction:
Oh for sure. Today for sure, and the last few days. I don’t think it’s in the way of you playing, but you think about it. There’s not one guy in that room that doesn’t want to be a Leaf. A few years ago they were probably dying to get out of here, that’s not the case here now. They want to be here, they want to be part of it — and they want to be a part of it moving ahead. Yet, it’s a business, as we all know. We saw with contracts, we see it with this. It doesn’t make it easy. Those guys are people and they want to be liked and they want to be appreciated and they want to play here.
Babcock on what he wants to accomplish down the stretch:
Well, I just think that you want to be feeling the best you can. There needs to be a level of intensity and preparation every single night. The teams that are really good and have a chance to win, they figure out how to win every night. Sometimes it’s with goaltending, sometimes it’s with special teams. Every night it’s with good defense.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#18 Andreas Johnsson – #34 Auston Matthews – #24 Kasperi Kapanen
#11 Zach Hyman – #91 John Tavares – #16 Mitch Marner
#12 Patrick Marleau – #29 William Nylander – #28 Connor Brown
#42 Trevor Moore – #33 Frederik Gauthier – #63 Tyler Ennis
#44 Morgan Rielly – #2 Ron Hainsey
#51 Jake Gardiner – #22 Nikita Zaitsev
#8 Jake Muzzin – #23 Travis Dermott
#31 Frederik Andersen
#40 Garret Sparks
Injured: Nazem Kadri (concussion)
Scratched: Justin Holl, Igor Ozhiganov
Buffalo Sabres Projected Lines
#13 Jeff Skinner – #9 Jack Eichel– #23 Sam Reinhart
#43 Conor Sheary – #71 Evan Rodrigues – #21 Kyle Okposo
#72 Tage Thompson – #17 Vladimir Sobotka – #65 Danny O’Regan
#20 Scott Wilson – #22 Johan Larsson – #28 Zemgus Girgensons
#26 Rasmus Dahlin – #4 Zach Bogosian
#19 Jake McCabe – #55 Rasmus Ristolainen
#82 Nathan Beaulieu – #26* Brandon Montour
#40 Carter Hutton
#35 Linus Ullmark
Injured: Casey Mittelstadt