Sabres host Maple Leafs in game of top NHL teams

The Buffalo Sabres are facing a new reality, and it is a good one.

They have become so good that they are not going to take anyone by surprise anymore, not after a 10-game winning streak that ended with 5-4 road loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday.

“I don’t think we’re going to sneak up on anybody anymore and that’s OK,” Sabres goaltender Carter Hutton said. “The days of taking the Buffalo Sabres lightly have come and gone.”

The Sabres ended a winless three-game trip Monday with a 2-1 loss to the Nashville Predators Monday night. They also lost 3-2 in overtime Friday to the Florida Panthers.

The Sabres (17-8-3) return home Tuesday night to take on the Toronto Maple Leafs, who are quite aware of the Sabres if for no other reason than the teams play in cities about a 90-hour drive apart.

The Maple Leafs (19-8-0) will go to the KeyBank Center having won four in a row and eight of their past 10, including a 5-3 win over the Minnesota Wild on Saturday. They are 10-3-0 on the road.

With the re-signing of right winger William Nylander after a hold out to open the season and the return from injury of center Auston Matthews, the Maple Leafs became stronger as well.

Matthews has scored three goals and added an assist in his two games since returning from a shoulder injury suffered on Oct. 27 that cost him 15 games.

“I think being able to get engaged in the game early, “Matthews said of his early success on his return. “I mean, I’m still not feeling completely like myself but it’s just two games in so I think I’ll continue to play, get my legs back under me and my wind back and just hope to continue to play better and better.”

Nylander is not expected to play in Buffalo but could return to the lineup for his season debut Thursday against the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday.

“We’ll get him into action as fast we can,” Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said Monday. “It’s going to be hard for him. The one thing about Willie is he has unbelievable edges, a real good skater, I think that really helps you. He is a fitness guy, works anyway, so ideally that will help him. But it’s still a competitive pace.”

Frederik Gauthier, who has not played since the return of Matthews could play in Buffalo.

Nylander’s return meant the Maple Leafs had to do some shuffling. As a result, left winger Josh Leivo was traded to the Vancouver Canucks for forward Michael Carcone, who is expected to report to the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League.

Leivo had four goals and two assists in 27 games for the Maple Leafs this season.

Defenseman Travis Dermott had been assigned to the Marlies over the weekend to make room on the roster for Nylander, but he was recalled Monday after the trade.

Carcone, 22, has appeared in 20 games with the Utica Comets of the AHL this season and has six goals and 11 assists.

The Maple Leafs had some breaks against Minnesota with three goals scored on deflections, two by the Wild defense.

“We’re going to end up as a team with lots of depth and we’re going to become a real good hockey club,” Babcock said. “I didn’t think we had our A-game at all in the second half of the game and, yet, we found a way to win. That’s the sign of a good team.”

The Sabres could have Jason Pominville back for the game Tuesday. He skated an extra 30 minutes Monday morning but missed his first game this season. He was hit from behind into the boards Friday night by Florida defenseman Alex Petrovic.

“I was a little stiff the last couple days, but I woke up (Monday) and felt much better,” Pominville told the Buffalo News. “I honestly didn’t think I was going to skate (Monday), but I felt good enough and they decided to let me go out there. I obviously wasn’t opposed to it. … I’m hopeful it keeps progressing the way it has because it’s been a good couple days after how stiff it was the first night.”

Sam Reinhart tied the game Monday for the Sabres on a goal early in the second period that bounced in off a Nashville defenseman. Kevin Fiala scored the game winner for the Predators at 16:34 of the second.