Maple Leafs-Sabres Preview
They'll look to avoid a sixth consecutive defeat while trying to extend the Maple Leafs' season-high road skid to six Friday night.
Buffalo (5-20-1) had reason to feel optimistic after a 3-1 home victory over Toronto on Nov. 15, which came two days after owner Terry Pegula fired general manager Darcy Regier and coach Ron Rolston. Ex-Sabre Pat LaFontaine was named to the newly created role of president of hockey operations, then selected his former Buffalo coach Ted Nolan to fill the same capacity.
However, the visiting Sabres lost 4-2 to Toronto (14-9-2) the next night and have recorded one goal in each game while being outscored 14-4 over the last four. The Sabres, whose 45 goals are by far the fewest in the NHL, fell to 2-11-1 at home after Wednesday's 3-1 defeat to Montreal.
"It is the same theme and it's simply not good enough," captain Steve Ott told the Sabres' official website. "I'm not going to sugarcoat. What's going on here is nothing to be proud of by any means.
"We found a way to lose. Good teams, confident teams find ways to battle in it and stick with a game. For us, we need to find that going forward and collectively."
Though Buffalo has been outscored 11-1 after the first period of the last four games and allowed its last five opponents to go 7 of 19 (36.8 percent) on the power play, Nolan believes his club is making progress.
"The one thing we asked our team to do is compete, and we competed," he said. "When things are difficult, it's easy to point fingers, but this group is really starting to pay attention. We're making strides in the right direction."
He hopes Matt Moulson will continue to produce after snapping an 11-game goal drought Wednesday. Moulson, who is likely to play after taking a hit to the boards in the second period, has five goals and two assists in his last six games against Toronto.
Though the Maple Leafs' situation isn't as dire as Buffalo's, they are trying to avoid losing six straight on the road for the first time since an 0-7-1 slide Oct. 23-Nov. 27, 2010.
After being limited to three goals in the previous four road games, Toronto held a 4-1 second-period lead Wednesday before Pittsburgh scored four of the next five to force overtime and win 6-5 in a shootout.
"We've got some talented players on the team, we've just got to find ways to finish games," said forward James van Riemsdyk, who had two goals with an assist. "It's not doom and gloom but we've got to find ways to win games like that."
Three of Pittsburgh's final four goals came on the power play. In consecutive losses to Columbus and the Penguins, the Maple Leafs have managed to kill four of nine penalties.
"We take penalty after penalty and take our momentum away," said coach Randy Carlye, whose team was outshot 17-0 in the third period Wednesday.
Van Riemsdyk snapped a four-game goal drought since scoring twice at home against the Sabres. Those are his only four goals in his last 11 contests.