Jason Pominville is an alum of the days when the Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs played eight times a season. So what's gone on this year has been a head-scratcher to him.
The Sabres play game 66 of their season Monday night in KeyBank Center, exactly five months after the campaign began. And it's the first time all year they meet the Leafs. But the longtime rivals will quickly grow sick of each other again, as they will stage all four of their meetings over Buffalo's next 14 games.
"I can't believe it. It's weird the way the schedule is built," Pominville said after practice Sunday downtown. "We always played them late a little bit but to have not played them home or away at this point at all is definitely different and something we're not used to. For me, it's been a while so I'm interested to see if it's still the same way where their fans manage to get tickets in here and be pretty loud. So it should be a good atmosphere again."
Pominville has not played the Leafs in a Buffalo uniform since he was traded to Minnesota at the deadline in 2013. He said he has vivid memories of a lot of wins – Buffalo is 34-12-2 at home against the Leafs since 2000 and 16-4 since 2010 – and a lot of intense games.
Pominville also quickly recalled the comical 2006 incident when Sabres tough guy Andrew Peters was ejected after mimicking a golf swing toward late Leafs enforcer Wade Belak, sending a message that the Sabres were prepping for the playoffs while the Leafs were simply headed for the links.
"I do remember Petey's golf swing," said a smiling Pominville. "That's definitely something that made the guys laugh. That was a while ago. There were a lot of battles and good games. We were able to win a lot and it was nice to be on the good side of things."
The Sabres haven't been on the good side of much this season, of course, but they have five of their 20 wins over Tampa Bay and Boston. And they can either help or hurt the Leafs' chances of finishing second in the Atlantic Division if they can steal a few wins against them here.
"It would be nice to be battling with a playoff spot or be competing with them," said Sabres winger Kyle Okposo. "But any time you play Toronto it's a little different feel and it's going to be fun. I'm looking forward to it. The building is electric, definitely fun games to play in. They're coming off a few games they've probably like to have back so we know we're probably going to get their best and we're looking forward to it."
The Leafs are 0-1-2 in their last three games and coming off Saturday's 5-2 loss to Washington outdoors at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. Coach Mike Babcock ripped the club after that game, promising a hard practice here Sunday, and he delivered a high-tempo workout.
"To me, it's a regroup time," Babcock said. "We have a Buffalo team that would be sick and tired of hearing about the Toronto Maple Leafs, so they're going to play hard tomorrow and we've got to be ready to play hard. Our guys will be disappointed with what happened last night and disappointed in themselves.
"I'm disappointed in myself for the way it happened and I didn't like it. The bottom line is Washington has a real good team and played good. But we're way better than we showed. ... When you don't put your best foot forward, that's not good enough."
The Leafs fell behind, 3-1, in the first period and never caught up in the game, allowing Washington's big guns to hurt them offensively.
"They started on time and we didn't," forward Mitch Marner said here Sunday. "They started hot and we kind of chased the game the rest of the way. When you're chasing the game, it's usually never good for your team."
The Sabres are chasing the Leafs on Rebuild Road as Toronto made the playoffs last year and has 34 more points than Buffalo this year. Neither star is currently playing as Leafs phenom Auston Matthews (shoulder) and Sabres stud Jack Eichel (ankle) are both sidelined by injuries. Nonetheless, the comparisons between the teams continue and it's not a pretty one as far as the Sabres are concerned.
"Obviously I thought we got fortunate in the lottery draft, which is a real good thing and one of the things we couldn't control," Babcock said. "It was beyond our control and worked out for us. Most of the stuff is within your control: How you go about doing your job every day, how you scout, how you trade, how you control your cap, how you manage your product. Those things are in your control.
"To me, you're not hoping to get lucky there. You're hoping to do it right, work hard and be smarter than the next guy or the next organization and get ahead. That's what it's all about."
Pominville knows the Sabres have to be wary after the Leafs faced Babcock's wrath following Saturday's game.
"They're deep, they're a fast team, defend extremely well and make it hard on their opponents," Pominville said. "Their depth and scoring, they're pretty young too but have some good veterans. They're a team that's definitely elite on our side."