The Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs have struggled all season, and neither has shown signs lately that they can finish on a positive note.
Wednesday night’s matchup in Toronto between two of the worst teams in the NHL seems likely to include some particularly bad defense.
Buffalo (19-42-5) is looking to avoid finishing a five-game trip winless after allowing 17 goals in defeats to Florida, Tampa Bay, Ottawa and Washington. The Sabres jumped out to a lead in Sunday’s 6-1 loss to the Capitals on Johan Larsson’s goal 2:35 in – the third time in those four losses that they scored first.
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Buffalo was outshot 45-17 and is last in the league with 35.4 shots allowed per game and shot differential at minus-12.47. They’ve given up 40.4 shots over their last eight after surrendering 34.8 previously.
Toronto doesn’t rank far ahead of Buffalo, allowing 33.1 per game and yielding 42-plus in three of four.
The Sabres could be even weaker defensively after blueliners Zach Bogosian and Andrej Meszaros left with injuries Sunday and didn’t practice Monday, leaving coach Ted Nolan with five defensemen for the session. Bogosian has led Buffalo with 26:12 of average ice time in his 11 games since being acquired from Winnipeg.
Forward Nick Deslauriers had to fill in on defense against Washington at times.
"When you get opportunities to do something maybe a little out of your comfort zone or get more responsibility, it’s a time to show people that you can handle it," he said. "Obviously, we’re in a tough situation right here now. You’ve just got to find the positives."
While Buffalo owns the league’s worst record, the Maple Leafs (26-35-6) have lost five of six and are an NHL-worst 4-18-3 since Jan. 12. They’re on track to finish with their worst winning percentage since going 30-43 with nine ties in 1997-98.
Toronto squandered a 2-0 third-period lead and lost 4-3 in overtime to the New York Islanders on Monday.
"We did do some good things, but when you’re up by two goals in the third on home ice, you should never lose the game," said forward James van Riemsdyk, who had a goal and an assist.
Center Nazem Kadri, fourth on the team with 36 points, was scratched after missing a team meeting Sunday and Toronto team president Brendan Shanahan says he’ll be held out this one and Friday’s game in Calgary.
Shanahan says the organization wants to make a bigger point by keeping Kadri for two more games and it’s time for him to start making better decisions.
Nolan didn’t name a starting goaltender at Monday’s practice but did say "The hot hand goes," which would suggest that Anders Lindback is likely to be in net. Lindback stopped 20 of 22 shots in relief against the Capitals after Matt Hackett gave up four goals on 23 shots.
Lindback has gone 2-0-0 with a 1.33 goals-against average in three games against the Maple Leafs, while Hackett has never faced them.
This matchup features a battle of ineptitude on special teams. Toronto’s penalty killing has been abysmal over the last 11 games, allowing 13 goals on 44 chances for a 29.5 percent rate, up from 16.2 percent previously. Buffalo has scored one power-play goal on 24 opportunities in its past 10 contests.
The Leafs have won 10 of 11 at home in the series with Phil Kessel scoring once in each of his last five meetings.