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Sabres at Maple Leafs preview: Eichel vs. Matthews

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The first matchup between top prospects takes place tonight in Toronto.

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Buffalo Sabres Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Game #44

Buffalo Sabres (17-17-9) at Toronto Maple Leafs (20-13-8)

Puck drop: 7:30 p.m. EST | Air Canada Centre | Toronto, ON

TV: MSG, SNO, NHL.tv | Radio: WGR 550

SB Nation’s Leafs Blog: Pension Plan Puppets

Three Questions

1. Eichel vs. Matthews, who is the more ?

The first time these two teams played,a 2-1 Leafs win back on November 3, Jack Eichel was still sidelined with his high ankle sprain. Now that he’s back on the ice, we finally get to see the matchup between two franchise saviors that hockey fans have been dreaming about.

Matthews is having a heck of a rookie year, with 21 goals and 37 points on the year already. Eichel obviously doesn’t have those aggregate stats, thanks to missing two months with his injury, but he’s scoring at a similar pace to the rookie phenom, and put in two goals just last night. Both players are the engines that drive their line’s offense, and getting to watch them battle for (hopefully) the next decade should be a treat.

2. Can the Sabres stay out of the box tonight?

Toronto’s power play is humming along at a 23.8% conversion rate, good for second in the NHL. We don’t need to reiterate how poorly the Sabres have played on the power play this season, so limiting Toronto’s opportunities with the man advantage will be key.

3. Who scores the first goal?

No team scores more first period goals than the Leafs, with 49 on the season. The Sabres are towards the bottom of the league with 30, but they’ve been much better as of late in getting those first period goals. It’s just the other periods that usually go wrong.

When leading after the first period, the Leafs have only lost one game in regulation. Buffalo is still somehow in the playoff hunt thanks to a weak division, so getting two in regulation on a team above them in the standings would be big.

Projected Buffalo Lines

63 Tyler Ennis - 90 Ryan O’Reilly - 21 Kyle Okposo
82 Marcus Foligno - 15 Jack Eichel - 23 Sam Reinhart
Evander Kane - 28 Zemgus Girgensons - 12 Brian Gionta
48 William Carrier - 19 Cal O’Reilly - 26 Matt Moulson

29 Jake McCabe - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
47 Zach Bogosian - 6 Cody Franson
41 Justin Falk - 38 Taylor Fedun

Goal: 40 Robin Lehner