For the second time in their careers, it will be Nylander vs. Nylander on Wednesday night in KeyBank Center. This time, the brothers on opposite sides of the Buffalo Sabres-Toronto Maple Leafs rivalry are coming into the game on good rolls.
Alexander Nylander has made clear progress in his four-game recall with the Sabres and posted his first career multipoint game in the NHL with two assists Sunday against St. Louis. Meanwhile, Toronto's William Nylander entered Tuesday's game in Nashville with five points (all assists) in his last three games, and was working on his first three-game point streak since signing late with the club in December as a restricted free agent.
The brothers met once previously, a 4-2 Leafs win here on April 3, 2017, that saw Toronto score three first-period goals in a 43-second span. Alex Nylander had no points in his NHL debut while William Nylander had one assist.
"It's going to be a lot of fun," Alexander Nylander said after practice Tuesday. "He's been in the league for a while now. I remember my first game didn't go as we wanted. Just hopefully we get the win against him for bragging rights."
William Nylander has just five goals and 17 assists for the Leafs in 44 games since he signed his six-year, $41 million contract.
"It was tough for him in the beginning of the season, but he's playing better now and doing well," Alexander Nylander said. "I'm happy for him that he's got it going with his team and it's going to be a lot of fun to play against him.
"I was talking to him a bit (during his contract stalemate), not as much as I usually do, but he was with my family the whole time and he had all the support he needed. I kind of left him alone to do his thing but now that he's back over here, we talk every day again."
Alexander Nylander has been thriving on a line with Conor Sheary and Evan Rodrigues. They will skate as Buffalo's second unit again in this game.
"He’s taking advantage of the opportunity," coach Phil Housley said of Nylander. "Each and every game he’s seems to get better. His linemates are helping him out, they play a fast game. He’s just getting more confident down low in the corner. He’s driving on cycles, he’s making plays up ice and he’s using his speed."
The Sabres' power play has hit a massive rut of late, going 0-for-12 over the last six games and 1-for- 17 over the last eight games. The Sabres have slipped to 18th in the NHL for the season at 18 percent and are 23th in the league in March at 10.5 percent.
"You have to simplify it," Housley said. "I think shot volume creates, shot mentality creates. We’re just holding on to pucks, we’re overpassing the puck. We’ve got to think about just getting pucks to the net and simplifying that part of the power play."
Housley agreed that the slump might have some players spooked about shooting.
"They just try to overhandle it, they try to make the perfect play," he said. "The more you handle the puck, it just gives the other team time to get into position more. We’re not fooling anybody. We just got to move the puck quick, get it off to the flank area and start developing that."
Based on practice Tuesday, it looks like the Sabres will keep the same lineup as in Sunday's win against St. Louis. That means forwards Jason Pominville and Scott Wilson and defenseman Matt Hunwick will be healthy scratches.
Pominville, who has 15 goals this season, is likely on the outside looking in despite good career numbers against the Leafs. He's on a six-game point streak against Toronto (4-3-7) and his 57 career points against them are his most against any NHL opponent.
Meanwhile, Jack Eichel's gaudy numbers against the Leafs are up to 15 points in 12 career games (10-5-15), and seven points in five home games (5-2-7). He's had a pair of two-goal games against Toronto this season.
Status quo for #Sabres lines today:
— Mike Harrington (@ByMHarrington) March 19, 2019
Now that his season is over with Barrie of the Ontario Hockey League, the Sabres have reassigned 2018 fourth-round pick Matej Pekar to the Rochester Americans.
But that doesn't necessarily mean Pekar is going to see any action the rest of the season or in the Calder Cup playoffs.
Pekar has not played for Barrie since Jan. 10 due to a broken collarbone and the trip to Rochester is likely just going to be a rehab assignment combined with a watch-and-learn mission for the young forward.
"We're pleased that Matej will be joining us in Rochester as part of continuing his development process,” Sabres assistant general manager/Amerks GM Randy Sexton said in a statement. “He is coming off a long-term injury, so whether he plays games remains to be seen. More importantly, he'll have the opportunity to immerse himself in the pro hockey environment, which we believe is a critical component of any young player's development."
Pekar, 19, has 36 points in 33 games for Barrie (14-22-36). He compiled five three-point games and nine multipoint games in his first season of junior hockey.