Coming off of their best game in over a week despite the shutout outcome in favour of Nashville, the Toronto Maple Leafs will be desperate to put it all together tonight and earn a tough win less than 24 hours after last night’s loss (7 p.m EST, Sportsnet).
Through injuries and some late-season tinkering, the Sabres will have a bit of a different lineup than they did back on March 2nd against the Leafs. Alex Nylander will play in his 12th career NHL game tonight and his fifth of the season up against his older brother William. Alex has 31 points in 49 games for Rochester (AHL) this season as a 21-year-old. Meanwhile, Kyle Okposo slides down to Johan Larsson’s line as a result, making the Skinner-Eichel-Reinhart line the only one to remain intact from the last matchup.
On the back end, the Sabres continue to mess with their pairings to get a feel for what might work best come next season now that Brandon Montour is in the mix. Tonight, Montour pairs with rookie Rasmus Dahlin, who is looking to pass the 40-point mark in his rookie season and make at least a small dent in Elias Pettersson’s virtually guaranteed Calder trophy odds.
The Leafs‘ 5-3 win over Buffalo in early March signaled the start of another losing streak for the Sabres, who had already lost 4-of-5 going into that game. They lost another seven in a row after that before earning a shootout win on Sunday against the declining St.Louis Blues. This is an opponent primed for the taking if the Leafs can dig deep in the back-to-back situation; last night’s loss felt like one that could precede the end of their recent slump in form based on how they competed and executed in the details of the game defensively. Needless to say, time is starting to run thin as far as catching up to Boston for home ice, and perhaps more importantly at this stage, the Leafs need to start putting together efforts like the one in Nashville more consistently if they’re going to be ready to run into a buzzsaw Bruins team that is playing extremely well come Game 1.
On the Leafs‘ side of things, Martin Marincin will not dress again tonight after he was announced as the latest player to catch whatever bug is going around the team right now. Igor Ozhiganov and Justin Holl were put into a bit of a rotation last night at times instead of playing together, which makes sense considering they haven’t played on a pair together by virtue of their handedness on top of the fact that they don’t have the full trust of the coaching staff. Both ended up playing under 14 minutes as the coaching staff continued to rely heavily on Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin, who were the only defensemen to play over 20 minutes.
Game Day Quotes
Mike Babcock on last night’s performance:
I like everything but we didn’t score. I thought Pekka Rinne was good. I thought we were good, though. I thought we were the best we’ve been in a long time and had every opportunity. In the end, we didn’t score, but I liked the way we played. I like how little we gave up — fewest scoring chances in a long, long time.
Babcock on what he expects after Sparks’ comments after his last start:
I would expect him to play well. I just know that in life that you own everything yourself. The way I look at it, when the team isn’t playing well, it’s my fault. If I take responsibility for that I can fix that. If you’re the goalie and your team doesn’t win — if you own it — you can fix that. Anytime you’re looking for any other help in life, it doesn’t usually go your way. So just own what you do and just play as hard as you can tonight. We’re going to play hard for Sparky and he’s going to play well.
Babcock on William Nylander’s recent play and the matchup against Alex:
I didn’t think he had quite as much jump. He was a little sick yesterday, but I think he’s been much better — skated better, won more battles. That’s the whole key for him. When Willy’s physical on offence — what I mean by that is separating guys from the puck, getting the puck back — that’s when he’s at his best.
We’ll find out who the best Nylander is in a hurry, right? There’s got to be some family bragging rights I would think. Obviously, its got to be exciting for both of them. Not many guys in the national league get to play against their brother. Should be fun.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#18 Andreas Johnsson – #34 Auston Matthews – #29 William Nylander
#11 Zach Hyman – #91 John Tavares – #16 Mitch Marner
#12 Patrick Marleau – #43 Nazem Kadri – #24 Kasperi Kapanen
#42 Trevor Moore – #19 Nic Petan – #28 Connor Brown
#44 Morgan Rielly – #2 Ron Hainsey
#8 Jake Muzzin – #22 Nikita Zaitsev
#92 Igor Ozhiganov – #3 Justin Holl
#40 Garret Sparks
#31 Frederik Andersen
Injured: Jake Gardiner (back), Travis Dermott (shoulder), Frederik Gauthier (foot), Martin Marincin (illness)
Scratched: Tyler Ennis
Buffalo Sabres Projected Lines
#13 Jeff Skinner – #9 Jack Eichel– #23 Sam Reinhart
#43 Conor Sheary – #71 Evan Rodrigues – #92 Alex Nylander
#17 Vladimir Sobotka – #37 Casey Middelstadt – #72 Tage Thompson
#28 Zemgus Girgensons – #22 Johan Larsson – #21 Kyle Okposo
#26 Rasmus Dahlin – #26 Brandon Montour
#4 Zach Bogosian – #55 Rasmus Ristolainen
#6 Marco Scandella – #8 Casey Nelson
#40 Carter Hutton
#35 Linus Ullmark
Injured: Jake McCabe