Sabres vs. Maple Leafs Preview: Struggling Leafs Visit to Start Homestand
Sabres look to turn strong performances into wins as they host Toronto and head coach Mike Babcock for the first time this season.
Buffalo Sabres (1-4-0) vs.
Toronto Maple Leafs (1-3-1)
The Sabres welcome Toronto tonight to kick off a three-game homestand. After his breakout game against Tampa Bay, Sam Reinhart remains on the top line, but shifts to left wing and Ryan O'Reilly moves back to center as head coach Dan Bylsma continues to play with his line combinations. Jamie McGinn also gets the chance to play on the right of Evander Kane and Jack Eichel tonight, while Brian Gionta will play with Matt Moulson and Zemgus Girgensons in an effort to "round out" the lines.
Bylsma is hoping McGinn can give the second line a bigger net-front presence to compliment Kane and Eichel's puck-moving abilities.
Like Buffalo, the Maple Leafs have had a slow start to the season with one win in five games under new head coach Mike Babcock—who is making his first regular season appearance at First Niagara Center since spurning the Sabres' big money offer this summer. Goaltending has been a big part of the Leafs' struggles. In three appearances a piece, Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer have save percentages of .900 and .890, respectively. Bernier is expected to get the nod tonight.
The Sabres are 8-0-1 against Toronto at home dating back to the 2011-12 season.
1. When are we going to see some offense?
Fancy stats tell us the Sabres are much-improved this season, but that hasn't translated to wins just yet. Buffalo has out-attempted its opposition, 186-174, boasts a Corsi-for percentage (51.7) that ranks among the top half of the league and has the NHL's third best on-ice scoring chance differential (plus-29). Imagine saying that a year ago. Unfortunately, the Sabres haven't been able to turn improved possession into goals, having scored only nine in five games. But, the underlying numbers say they are coming. Perhaps against a Maple Leafs team that has conceded the third-most goals in the league this year? Stay tuned.
2. Can the Sabres get a fast start?
Toronto has had trouble in the first period of games so far, with opponents out-scoring it, 6-1, in the opening frame. Bernier, especially, has a penchant for shaky starts. This game seems like a good opportunity for the Sabres to break out of their own early game struggles. Buffalo has scored only one first period goal all season, and that came in its last game at Tampa Bay. Despite the eventual loss, that tally by Reinhart set the table for the Sabres' strong effort against the Lightning. The only other time they scored first in a game, albeit not in the first period, was against Columbus, which remains their only win. So, the importance of starting quicker can't be over-emphasized.
3. What will Babcock's reception be?
It looked like Babcock to Buffalo was all but sewn up this summer before he opted for the Toronto job. The decision was a very public one and Sabres GM Tim Murray was reportedly "livid" with how the hiring process went down. Tonight is Babcock's first regular season trip to Buffalo since all of that offseason hoopla and the reaction he gets from the FNC faithful will be interesting to see. As if the Sabres-Leafs rivalry needed another spark.
Cody Franson is also making his first appearance for the Sabres against his former team.