PTO signing Michal Neuvirth will make his preseason debut in between the pipes as the Toronto Maple Leafs hit the halfway mark of exhibition season tonight in Buffalo (7 p.m. ET, Sportsnet).
The lineup closely mirrors the one that hit the ice for the start of preseason in Newfoundland — the Tavares line, a potential fourth line of Moore, Gauthier and Spezza, and the Muzzin – Barrie pairing are all back in action tonight.
One tweak is Frederik Gauthier shifting into the middle with Jason Spezza on his right wing; expect the two to take draws on their respective strong sides and share center duties at different points, but Babcock iked how well Gauthier skated over 200 feet of ice in the opener and may well go in this direction if Goat can keep up the stellar play.
The Sabres will ice a stronger contingent than the group that dressed in Toronto on Friday, with Jack Eichel, Marcus Johansson, Jeff Skinner and Sam Reinhart all expected to play tonight. The Eichel line should give the matchup pairing of Muzzin – Barrie a good preseason test with which to ready themselves.
In net, Neuvirth is looking to make up for lost time after missing a few practices and the first preseason game due to an injury. That certainly didn’t assuage any concerns about Neuvirth’s ability to stay healthy, but there is no doubt he has the most NHL experience and pedigree of the Leafs backup options (.910 career average over 254 stars), so we’ll see if he can make a mark against one of his former teams tonight.
Game Day Quotes
Mike Babcock on the backup job:
It’s interesting. In our scenario, everyone is talking about how we can’t play Freddy that much. We’ve got to make the playoffs, and number two, you’ve got to have someone to put in the net. These are big decisions for us an organization. Ideally, we’re set up here with guys who are battling for the job. We’ll just continue to watch them.
Babcock on Nylander’s camp and preseason so far:
Home run for Willy last night. He had to feel great. It’s important for us to see it but it’s as important for us to see it as him to feel it and know it and feel good about himself. I thought he was good in practice again today. You start feeling it and you get going again. For whatever reason, he couldn’t find it last year. He knows he’s a real good hockey player and we need him to be a good hockey player.
Babcock on the plan for the Goat/Spezza line:
We’ve got him and Goat both playing center on that one line. I’m going to give them lots of d-zone starts. He can play on the power play and the penalty kill. We’ll just keep going. He is different than other guys here, in my opinion, because I am going to have a conversation with him every day and see how he is doing. I think he has earned that just by the person and the kind of player he is. We’ll just keep talking.
Babcock on Ben Harpur:
He’s a big, physical guy who can look after his teammates. He’s way different than most of us on our team. That separates him in itself. I thought he was real good in his first exhibition game. He gets another go here tonight. He’s just got to keep grinding away and doing his thing.
Babcock on Gauthier:
I just think Goat was really good. I thought he was our best player in that game. Now he has got to do it again and just keep doing it again and again. He’s quicker than he was before and obviously more confident. He’s a big, strong guy and an important guy for our team.
Buffalo Sabres Projected Lines
Sabres’ lineup for tonight against Toronto. Eichel, Skinner, Vesey, Reinhart, Johansson and yes, Ristolainen. pic.twitter.com/hMVXfdKjUp
— Lance Lysowski (@LLysowski) September 21, 2019
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
Kapanen (24) – Tavares (91) – Marner (16)
Moore (42) – Gauthier (33) – Spezza (19)
Engvall (47) – Elynuik (76) – Bracco (29)
Korshkov (96) – Brooks (77) – Petan (61)
Muzzin (8) – Barrie (94)
Harpur (22) – Schmaltz (2)
Gravel (25) – Holl (3)