Buffalo. Toronto. “Hockey Night in Canada.”
Here are Five Things to Know as the rivals meet Saturday night in KeyBank Center.
1. Sabres need to make a stand
Buffalo is just 4-9-2 in its last 15 games, including 2-3-2 at home. With eight games left, starting goaltender Robin Lehner wants to see his teammates play with purpose.
“We’ve got to play for our careers,” Lehner said after Saturday’s morning skate. “This is our job. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the playoffs or not. It’s very important games for a lot of players in here and us as a team. We can’t just put our skates on.”
2. Maple Leafs surging
Toronto has won three straight to claim third place in the Atlantic Division. The Maple Leafs have a chance to get closer to first-place Montreal and put space between themselves and fourth-place Boston.
“The Leafs are playing real well,” Sabres forward Ryan O’Reilly said. “They’re fighting for their lives right now, and we want to upset them.”
3. Major scoring differences
The Sabres have just six goals in the past five games, with five coming on the power play.
“We’ve been struggling as a team scoring five-on-five,” left wing Evander Kane said. “Obviously, that indicates we need to get to the net a little harder, maybe put more pucks there and try to put ourselves in better situations to score.”
Toronto, meanwhile, has 13 goals during the three-game winning streak. William Nylander has three goals and five points during the run, while Auston Matthews (one goal, three assists) and Nazem Kadri (two goals, two assists) have four points each.
“It’s a lot of skill and a lot of speed,” Lehner said. “I think if you play a tough game and you limit their time and space it makes it harder on them. If you give them too much space, their skill comes out. They’ve got a lot of skill over there.”
4. Sabres get reinforcements
Buffalo will welcome four players back to the lineup. Kyle Okposo and William Carrier will join the forwards, while Dmitry Kulikov and Justin Falk will play defense. The Sabres have recalled Brady Austin to replace suspended Rasmus Ristolainen.
Okposo (19 goals, 43 points) was among the Sabres’ leading scorers when he suffered a rib injury 10 games ago.
“We’ve missed him a lot, for sure,” O’Reilly said. “We haven’t been playing great hockey, and he’s been one of our best players all year. He makes my job a lot easier when he’s out there. He does so many things well.”
5. New-look power play
With Ristolainen unavailable to man the blue line, the Sabres are expected to use five forwards on their first power play. O’Reilly will play up top, Jack Eichel and Okposo will man the wings, while Kane and Sam Reinhart will play in front of the net.
“You need to have a special guy on top to be able to do it, a guy who is comfortable there, responsible there,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “For some players, it’s a little bit of an island, but Ryan has been there, sometimes rotates there in our rotation on our power play, has some comfort there. That would be one of the drawbacks of putting five forwards out there, but it’s not a total new thing to be the pivot up top there.
“It adds some dynamic to your power play in some ways. The forwards have to have defensive responsibility as well. The flank guys still need to have that awareness defensively.”