For the second time in less than a week, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres will go head-to-head at the Scotiabank Arena (7 p.m EST, CBC).
Jack Eichel wasn’t necessarily dominant by the possession numbers against the Leafs on Monday — his line and the Tavares line finished with relatively even numbers — but he was by far the Sabres’ most dangerous player. He scored two goals, one at even strength and one on the power play, along with a team-leading seven individual scoring chances. His line stays the same tonight, with Jeff Skinner and Sam Reinhart on the wings. The Leafs will look for Tavares and his line to contain Eichel’s speed a little better through the middle of the ice, while the return of Casey Middelstadt from injury — he will center Scott Wilson and Tage Thompson — gives the Leafs a little more to think about from further down the lineup as well.
Tonight will be the second of a back-to-back for Buffalo, who beat Pittsburgh 4-3 in OT yesterday. They started off slow and didn’t really start to push back until the third period after the Penguins scored two late in the second. Deadline acquisition Brandon Montour scored his first goal with Buffalo and played close to 20 minutes, more than he had been in the last few weeks.
Montour was an addition out of left field to some, considering the Sabres are all but out of playoff contention (down to a 3.3% chance now, per moneypuck.com), but he’s signed through next year and is only 24-years-old. Among regular Ducks defensemen, he ranked second in expected goals per sixty and second in individual shot attempts per sixty. Montour has historically been a very solid offensive contributor, with above average shot rates both on-ice and individually, but has struggled defensively throughout his career. He had a big jump in ice time this year with the Ducks, averaging around 23 minutes a game and had some growing pains within the role. He won’t play as much on a Sabres team that gives Rasmus Ristolainen and Zach Bogosian a good amount of ice time on the right side, but he’s a skilled player that gives the team a third good talented puck mover outside of Ristolainen and rookie Rasmus Dahlin.
After a solid game on the improved bottom line for Tyler Ennis, he’s been taken out of the lineup to get Nic Petan in for some minutes. Most probably expected his debut to come a little later on, especially considering the play of that fourth line as of late, but it’s a good opportunity to get him in against a relatively weak opponent at home. He’s also taken some reps on the second powerplay unit in place of Ennis, who usually plays on the left half-wall.
The rest advantage and the desire to bounce back after their worst loss of the season in New York should have the Leafs plenty motivated for this one, in addition to the runaway train that is the Boston Bruins right now; the Leafs need to pile up the points to keep pace in the battle for home-ice advantage.
Game Day Quotes
Nic Petan on his debut:
It’s obviously an exciting time, it’s been a while. I’m just going to enjoy it — if there’s a chance to make a play i’m going to make a play. Just excited to get back out there and do the best that I can.
I know Gauthier from a while back so I know how he plays. Moore seems like a hard worker, does the right things.
John Tavares on the response from Leafs fans after the treatment he received from Islanders fans and the #TavaresDayTO hashtag:
Ever since I’ve been here, the support has been tremendous, so playing here and being a part of it, you really realize, especially through the support you get from around the city, that with the fans we have, it is a special place to play.
Tavares on how the Leafs need to play to have success:
Certainly, I think our speed, our quickness, our tenacity, and our ability to get out of our own end quick really lets out game kind of — I don’t want to say open up, but — generate the momentum and speed and ability to get on the forecheck that is hard to play against.
We’ve got to be smart with the puck. We’ve got to understand when we’ve got time and space to make plays and we can take advantage of that. Other teams are doing a good job in the neutral zone and putting pressure on us, and it’s just kind of getting the ice tilted back again and gain some momentum. That’s just by playing simple and making teams have to come 200 feet and do a good job with what we’re doing with the puck and being smart with it.
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
#19 Nic Petan – #33 Frederik Gauthier – #42 Trevor Moore
#44 Morgan Rielly – #2 Ron Hainsey
#8 Jake Muzzin – #22 Nikita Zaitsev
#52 Martin Marincin – #92 Igor Ozhiganov
#31 Frederik Andersen
#40 Garret Sparks
Injured: Nazem Kadri (concussion), Jake Gardiner (back), Travis Dermott (shoulder)
Scratched: Tyler Ennis, Justin Holl
Buffalo Sabres Projected Lines
#13 Jeff Skinner – #9 Jack Eichel– #23 Sam Reinhart
#43 Conor Sheary – #71 Evan Rodrigues – #21 Kyle Okposo
#20 Scott Wilson – #37 Casey Middelstadt – #72 Tage Thompson
#28 Zemgus Girgensons – #22 Johan Larsson – #29 Jason Pominville
#26 Rasmus Dahlin – #4 Zach Bogosian
#19 Jake McCabe – #55 Rasmus Ristolainen
#48 Matt Hunwick – #26 Brandon Montour
#40 Carter Hutton
#35 Linus Ullmark
Injured: Marco Scandella, Vladimir Sobotka