The Maple Leafs seek to avenge a 9-3 loss in late December against the Buffalo Sabres tonight at Scotiabank Arena (7:00 p.m. EST, Sportsnet).

It has been two and a half months since the last time the Maple Leafs and Sabres faced off in the QEW battle, but the most recent matchup is one the Leafs and their starting goaltender wouldn’t have forgotten about.

After losing to the Sabres by a score of 6-4 in November, the Leafs conceded a touchdown (with a missed extra-point attempt) plus a field goal in a loss just before Christmas. Ilya Samsonov’s poor start to the season had reached its peak, and a week later, he was placed on waivers.

Fast forward 76 days, the Maple Leafs (8-2-0 in their last 10 games) are in a much better place and Samsonov has been one of the better comeback stories of the NHL season. Of course, this isn’t a reason not to be extra vigilant against this opponent.

The Sabres have had the Leafs‘ number — they have not lost to Toronto in over a year — and the biggest lesson to take away from the first two games of the season series is that the Leafs shouldn’t be playing down to Buffalo’s level by engaging in a chancey, run-and-gun, defense-optional style of hockey. 15 goals against in two games vs. the Sabres should be written on the whiteboard of the Leafs’ dressing room tonight. Pride should be shown.

Sheldon Keefe noted in his morning skate availability that illness has started to circulate in the Leafs’ dressing room again this winter. David Kampf, among unnamed others, is game-time a decision.

Game Day Quotes

Sabres head coach Don Granato on whether his team gets up for these games vs. the Leafs more than most:

I would say that if there is an X factor. This an exciting building to come to. You know it is a challenging building. It is one heck of a hockey team over there that you have to be ready for. I do feel that is a bit of the juice.

The players know in the preparation phase that they have to bring it. Sometimes it provides enough of a nudge to perform at a higher level or a more effective and efficient level.

I think you always know you have to play as a group of five. You have some serious, high-end skill over there that is dangerous. Respecting that forces the need to play well as a group of five for your goaltender. When we have had success, it has been driven by that: playing as a group of five against their talent.

Granato on whether he saw a 70-goal level of upside in Auston Matthews back with the U.S. National Development Team program:

You absolutely saw the potential. He has had the drive and the appetite, but you saw this at the age of 15.

On day one, you get all of the kids into the program. They are the best kids from across the country. When you get them head-to-head, you see who rises. He rose immediately in the first days and weeks to separate himself at that point. You knew he was a special player.

Obviously, the biggest attribute is his ability to score goals. It was evident then. I am not very surprised at what he is able to do. He was very impressive at that age.

Granato on Matthews’ ability to add more and more layers to his goal-coring repertoire:

Great goal scorers have an immense appetite to score. They don’t need to go through three guys to do it. They are willing to shoot through three guys to do it.

They are always hungry for the next goal and the next way to score a goal. That is Auston, that is Ovechkin, and that is all of these guys who are great goal-scorers. They are constantly looking for different ways to add goals to their resume. Whether it is from their goal line, behind the net, or anywhere, they just have an appetite to score and score now.

They don’t really care to go through another layer of defense. They see how they can score in any situation. Most players, if it is not them vs. the goalie, they don’t think about scoring. They think they have to work their way through the next layer of defense before they can think about scoring.

The goal scorers get the puck on their stick and believe they can score from anywhere and in any situation, and they are intuitive enough to figure out how to make it happen.

Sheldon Keefe on David Kampf’s status for tonight: 

He’s going be a game time decision. He’s feeling better today. It looks like we’re going through it again here with some of these illnesses. We’ve got some others who will be game time decisions tonight.

Keefe on the motivation of the group coming off the 9-3 loss against the Sabres:

 It less about the motivating or whatever. I don’t think you are focused on that. We are in a much better place as a team than when we were then. But it gets your attention. That is what it is about.

We have given up 15 goals against this team in two games. It is one of the most skilled teams in this league. If you don’t defend and don’t take care of the puck — and you make it easy on them — they make you look bad. It is not just us. It is teams across the league. When they are at their best and the game goes their way, that is what they do.

We have to respect it with how we play. We have to adapt and be aware of the style of game. It is a different type of game than when you play against them with the skill they have. The game tends to be wide open. We have to manage that.

Keefe on Buffalo bringing their best against the Leafs: 

I don’t think it is any surprise for anyone who is here that we get teams’ best when they come to Toronto when it is a rival like that. When we go in there, we fill their building with our fans. There are lots of reasons for them to be at their best. There are lots of reasons for us to be at our best as well.

Keefe on the encouraging aspects of Ilya Samsonov’s recent play:

Just the confidence and swagger that he’s got. That is a big part of his game. He has been building on that even though he has been through some tough times here. He has found his way through it. He has done the work.

He is just feeling good in that sense. As I was talking about, we are in a different place now than when we played these guys last. I would say the same about Sammy. It has been good to see that growth through the season. We get a chance to put it on display tonight.

Simon Benoit on the lessons from the game against Boston: 

It’s just a question of staying in the present moment. Bad games happen, but you just don’t want them to slide to three or four games in a row. Just learn from your mistakes and keep moving on and focusing on today’s game. There’s nothing we can do about the past… Today’s a big game, we want to come out hard and get those two points.

Head-to-Head Stats: Maple Leafs vs. Sabres

Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines

#23 Matthew Knies – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#59 Tyler Bertuzzi – #11 Max Domi – #88 William Nylander
#74 Bobby McMann – #91 John Tavares – #19 Calle Jarnkrok
#18 Noah Gregor  – #64 David Kampf – #75 Ryan Reaves

#44 Morgan Rielly – #46 Ilya Lyubushkin
#78 T.J Brodie – #37 Timothy Liljegren
#2 Simon Benoit – #85 William Lagesson

Starter: #35 Ilya Samsonov
#60 Joseph Woll

*game-time decision
Scratched: Conor Timmins, Pontus Holmberg
Injured/Out: John Klingberg, Mark Giordano, Jake McCabe

Buffalo Sabres Projected Lines

#12 Jordan Greenway – #72 Tage Thompson – #89 Alex Tuch
#53 Jeff Skinner – #37 Casey Mittelstadt – #21 Kyle Okposo
#9 Zach Benson – #24 Dylan Cozens – #77 JJ Peterka
#28 Zemgus Girgensons  – #19 Peyton Krebs – #50 Eric Robinson

#26 Rasmus Dahlin – #10 Henri Jokiharju
#25 Owen Power – #75 Connor Clifton
#33 Ryan Johnson – #78 Jacob Bryson

Starter: #1 Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen
#31 Eric Comrie

Injured/Out: Mattias Samuelsson, Jack Quinn