Dec 27, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs right wing David Clarkson (71) goes after Buffalo Sabres center Steve Ott (9) at Air Canada Centre. The Maple Leafs beat the Sabres 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Buffalo Sabres Pregame Skate #46: Toronto Maple Leafs

Dec 27, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs right wing David Clarkson (71) goes after Buffalo Sabres center Steve Ott (9) at Air Canada Centre. The Maple Leafs beat the Sabres 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Sabres face the Toronto Maple Leafs this evening in what is the fifth and final meeting between the teams during this regular season. To date, the teams have split the season series and have gone to extra time in both of the last two meetings.

Allow me to throw some numbers at you – and apologies in advance because they aren’t exactly pretty.

  • Toronto has 51 points, compared to Buffalo’s 31.
  • The Leafs are 4th in the Atlantic Division, while Buffalo sits last, at 8th.
  • The Leafs are 15-10-1 at home, while the Sabres are 4-14-2 on the road.
  • Buffalo is 4-4-2 in their last ten games; the Leafs are 5-4-1.
  • Buffalo has a minus-45 goal differential (80/125), while Toronto’s is a minus-14 (132/146).
  • The Leafs have seven players on their roster with 20+ points on the season; the Sabres have one (Hodgson).

Okay, so the numbers don’t exactly stack up for the Buffalo Sabres heading into tonight’s game. In addition, the Leafs are looking to extend a two-game winning streak, while the Sabres look to start something after last night’s 4-3 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.

The home team has won the last six games played between Toronto and Buffalo, but anything could happen tonight.

Tonight also wraps up the Sabres’ seventh of 13 sets of back-to-back games this season;  Buffalo is 1-4-1 in the second half of back-to-back games this season. The good news is that Toronto also played last night – in Boston – so both teams are dealing with a back-to-back heading into tonight’s game.

The Buffalo Sabres will see the return of Tyler Myers to their lineup for tonight’s game against Toronto. Myers missed the past three games due to suspension but is eligible to return this evening; it’s expected that Alexander Sulzer will come out of the lineup to allow Myers back in. Still out for the Sabres, however, will be Cody McCormick, Kevin Porter, Henrik Tallinder and Drew Stafford. All four are on injured reserve, with Porter suffering a lower-body injury and the other three dealing with upper-body injuries. Stafford may return to the lineup this evening, coach Ted Nolan said yesterday.

Other lineup  changes for tonight’s game may be in place, particularly after Nolan expressed his unhappiness at Zenon Konopka‘s pair of penalties in last night’s loss. I’d also expect Ryan Miller to be in net tonight for Buffalo after Enroth’s performance last night. The Leafs may put Bernier in again, but may also allow James Reimer to come in and pick up the second half of the back-to-back.

The Leafs are coming off a 4-3 win in Boston last night where Tyler Bozak had a pair of goals. Jake Gardiner and James van Riemsdyk also scored for Toronto. Jonathan Bernier stopped 38 of 41 shots faced in the win. The Sabres, of course, are coming off last night’s 4-3 loss to Philadelphia. Cody Hodgson, Matt D’Agostini and Tyler Ennis scored in the loss, while Jhonas Enroth had 29 saves.

What’s hard to believe is that it’s only January 15  and yet after tonight’s game, that’s it between these two teams for the regular season. Two and a half months of hockey left (at least) and not another matchup between Toronto and Buffalo this season! That’s simply how the schedule panned out, but it’ll be strange not seeing the Leafs again until possibly next season.

Each team has won two games of the season series, with teams alternating victories.

The Sabres won the first meeting, a 3-1 win on November 15. Steve Ott, Marcus Foligno and Christian Ehrhoff scored for Buffalo; former Toronto Marlies captain Trevor Smith notched the lone goal for Toronto. It was Bernier (24 saves) vs. Miller (32 saves) in net.

Toronto won the next meeting, a 4-2 victory the following day. James van Riemsdyk had a pair of goals in the first period to give Toronto an early lead. Nikolai Kulemin and Mason Raymond also scored for Toronto, while Jamie McBain and Tyler Ennis scored for the Sabres. Being the second of a back-to-back set, the goaltending matchup was Enroth (18 saves) vs. Reimer (33 saves).

Buffalo would win the next matchup, a 3-2 overtime victory on Black Friday. Matt Moulson and Luke Adam scored for the Sabres in regulation, with Phil Kessel and Nikolai Kulemin adding goals for the Leafs. Christian Ehrhoff scored the game-winner just 38 seconds into overtime. This time, it was Reimer vs. Miller in net, with the goalies making 26 and 22 saves each, respectively.

Finally, the Leafs won the most recent meeting with Buffalo, a 4-3 shootout win on December 27. Matt Moulson, John Scott and Steve Ott scored for the Sabres, while Toronto goals came at the hands of Jake Gardiner, Peter Holland and Phil Kessel. Joffrey Lupul scored the only goal in the shootout to give the Leafs the extra point. Miller had 39 saves, while Bernier stopped 32 of 35 shots faced.

One key to tonight’s game will be keeping the Leafs’ big guns under check. Kessel, van Riemsdyk, Bozak – all on hot streaks, all need to be watched. Limit the opportunities you give those guys and you’ll limit the team’s chances to score. The Sabres also need to be strong on penalty-killing – or better yet, try not to take any penalties. The Leafs went 2/5 on the power play last night against Boston and with Buffalo’s less-than-stellar numbers on the PK, it’s definitely a place the team needs to control if they hope to come out victorious.

Tonight’s game between the Buffalo Sabres and the Toronto Maple Leafs begins at 7:30 p.m.

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