Having lost three of their last four games, the Maple Leafs can’t afford anything less than three points in their next two games against the worst team in the league. Toronto enters the weekend tied with the Detroit Red Wings for third place in the Atlantic Division with 23 points. The Maple Leafs cannot afford to let points slip away at the hands of the Sabres, who only have nine points through 20 games.
Toronto couldn’t be entering Buffalo at a worse time, as the Sabres fired their coach and general manager earlier in the week. With a new regime in place, it’s all but guaranteed that the Maple Leafs should expect Buffalo’s best game of the season, playing for the first time under interim coach Ted Nolan.
The Sabres are set to give a short-handed Maple Leafs team everything they can handle and more, as Toronto will have to overcome Buffalo without their top three centers. With Tyler Bozak and Dave Bolland already out of the lineup with injuries, Nazem Kadri made a stupid mistake by getting suspended three games for taking out goaltender Nicklas Backstrom. With a short-handed lineup, Toronto will look to do what it’s done all season, by relying on strong goaltending to defeat the opposition. With James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier likely to each see a game in the back-to-back, whatever the Maple Leafs lack at center they will look to make up for it in goaltending. Thankfully for Toronto, Buffalo owns the worst goals-per-game in the NHL at only 1.57 goals per game. If Toronto stands any chance of taking at least three points against the Sabres, it will have to come on the backs of their goaltending.
If Toronto stumbles against Buffalo over the weekend, it could begin a dangerous free fall in the standings given all the injuries. Few teams manage to hang on when they are missing their top three centers, and even fewer teams hang on when they are short-handed and unable to defeat the weaker teams in the league.
The Sabres might be fired up because they have a new coach, but the players haven’t changed. Buffalo is still a team Toronto should beat if they want to make the playoffs. That reason alone makes this a big weekend for the Maple Leafs, as a split against the Sabres could result in serious ramifications in the standings.
Playoff teams beat bad teams, short-handed or not.