BUFFALO, N.Y. — With a three-game losing streak and a disappointing loss in Saturday’s outdoor game against the Washington Capitals, a game against the lowly Buffalo Sabres is coming at the right time for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Maple Leafs (39-21-7) will visit their border rivals on Monday night.
Toronto received a wake-up call in the loss to the Capitals, where Washington scored shortly after each of Toronto’s goals. The Maple Leafs eventually fell 5-2. Before that, Toronto had an overtime loss to the Florida Panthers and a shootout loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
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“(The Capitals) look at us and they still think we’re kids,” Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said, according to the team’s website. “And it looked like we were kids out there. I thought they smacked us around and forechecked us. I didn’t think we executed at all.”
The Maple Leafs are still in a fine position overall, having won 13 of their previous 15 games before the three-game losing streak developed. They acquired longtime Montreal Canadiens veteran Tomas Plekanec before the trade deadline and are aiming to make a playoff run this postseason once they right the ship.
Toronto will once again be without top playmaker Auston Matthews because of a shoulder injury, but Matthews is reportedly making progress and nearing a return.
Mitchell Marner leads the Maple Leafs in points with 53 points (17 goals, 36 assists). William Nylander has 49 points (14 goals, 35 assists) this season. Both Frederik Anderson (55 games played, .920 save percentage) and Curtis McElhinney (13 games played, .931 save percentage) have been solid all season for the Leafs between the pipes.
The Sabres (20-34-11) are coming off a lackluster 4-1 loss to the Panthers on Friday night, which came after back-to-back wins over two of the better teams in the league in the Boston Bruins and Lightning. Buffalo has shown some signs of life throughout the second half of the season, even without top playmaker Jack Eichel, but has repeatedly reverted to its previous form.
It’s actually the first meeting of the year for the rivals, which adds some anticipation for both sides.
“It’s weird the way the schedule is built,” Sabres forward Jason Pominville said, according to the team’s website. “In the past, it feels like we have always played them late a little bit but to have not played them at this point home or away is definitely different and something we’re not used to.
“For me, it’s been a while so I’m interested to see if it’s still the same way where their fans manage to get tickets in here and be pretty loud. It should be a pretty good atmosphere.”
Backup Chad Johnson will return in net for the Sabres after a disappointing outing by Robin Lehner against the Panthers during the weekend. Johnson has a save percentage of .896 in 25 games this year but has played well in net for the Sabres lately.