TORONTO – It doesn’t take a math whiz to see Saturday’s matchup between Buffalo and Toronto is important.
“If we win we’re five points behind them,” Sabres defenseman Jake McCabe said. “If we lose we’re nine. We need every single point we can get.”
Here are Five Things to Know as the teams clash in Air Canada Centre.
1. Line changes for Buffalo
The Sabres are making moves with their forwards. Here were the lines during the morning skate:
Justin Bailey-Ryan O’Reilly-Kyle Okposo
Evander Kane-Jack Eichel-Sam Reinhart
Marcus Foligno-Evan Rodrigues-Brian Gionta
Matt Moulson-Derek Grant-Tyler Ennis
The intriguing move is Bailey joining the Sabres’ last two All-Stars.
“He’s definitely earned it and been one of our more effective players with his speed in the time that he’s gotten,” Bylsma said of the rookie, who will play the fifth game of this recall. “He’s had a little more tenacity on the puck and putting pressure on the opposition with that speed.”
2. Rodrigues is back
The Sabres sent Rodrigues to Rochester on Friday, and he played for the Amerks. He came back after the game. The erstwhile winger is moving to the middle for the first time in the NHL.
“Growing up I played center, then through college I didn’t very much,” Rodrigues said. “This year, I’ve played probably half the year at center.
“You have to be sound defensively. You can’t make many mistakes, especially in this league. At the same time at center, I get the puck a lot more and can make some more plays.”
His main chore will be shutting down the opponents, the way injured Johan Larsson would when he centered Gionta and Foligno.
“I thought about giving him 22 today to be the new guy in the middle of Foligno and Gionta,” Bylmsa said, “but that’s really kind of what he’s got to do for us going into that position between those two guys.”
3. Franson injury update
Sabres defenseman Cody Franson will miss his first game since blocking a shot with his foot Thursday.
“We’re looking at bone bruise at this point in time, two to three weeks, maybe two weeks,” Bylsma said.
A two- to three-week return would bring Franson back near the trade deadline. He is a pending unrestricted free agent.
Franson’s absence altered the defense pairs:
Josh Gorges-Dmitry Kulikov
Justin Falk-Taylor Fedun
4.Robin Lehner gets the call
Lehner made headlines during his last visit to Toronto, and he’ll look for positive ones Saturday as he starts again for the Sabres. Lehner is 5-3-1 with a .927 save percentage in 2017.
He’ll need help to slow the Maple Leafs.
“They can run and gun, and make things happen,” McCabe said. “They can score a lot of goals, so we just need to manage the puck really well tonight. That’s when we get into problems is when we mismanage the puck and turn the puck over.
“Especially against a team like this with their speed and a lot of skill up front, you can’t do that.”
5. American pride
It will be the second matchup of Sabres center Jack Eichel and Leafs center Auston Matthews. The Americans went head-to-head during the last game in Toronto.
Matthews has 25 goals and 44 points in 54 games. Eichel has 13 goals and 26 points in 33 games.
“I’ve just got to get between him and the net,” Eichel said. “It’s always nice to play your buddies in the NHL.”