The Toronto Maple Leafs will play their fourth pre-season game on Friday night when they play host to the Buffalo Sabres at Air Canada Centre.
The Leafs are 3-0-0 to this point in the pre-season and have shown a good work rate and structure through the early stages of camp. Leafs head coach Mike Babcock has gotten to know his roster better since the beginning of camp and the group has shown good signs. With that in mind, a lot of hard work lies ahead before the season kicks off.
"We've done lots of good things thus far. The games, I think our team has worked hard in them — we haven't been great but we've worked hard," said Babcock. "We've got a competitive game tonight and we've got to work hard. That to me is where I judge and we'll keep going."
While he has gotten a better handle on his roster through a week of camp, Babcock maintains that time will only help him better understand the group.
"Over time you learn who they are no matter what because who you are comes out. The guys that are bringing it every day and want to be good every day, they show."
Among those who will suit up in front of the Air Canada Centre crowd for the first time is 2015 first round pick Mitch Marner. The 18-year-old gave a quality account of himself in his pre-season debut in Montreal on Tuesday night.
In 15 minutes of playing time — including four minutes on the power play — Marner recorded a takeaway and a shot on goal while playing predominantly alongside William Nylander and Leo Komarov. Away from the box score, Marner displayed his great hockey sense and poise on the puck, making a number of heads up decisions. The team will look for more of that against Buffalo on Friday.
"We just want to put him back in and see what he can do. We're watching all these kids to see where they're at. It's the same for everybody," said Babcock of Marner. "I don't care if you've been in the League six, seven years or 10 years, you're trying to get your share, your chunk of cheese — power play, penalty kill, whatever — and when you're a kid you're trying to make the team. Everybody is trying to get as much as they can."
The Sabres enter tonight's matchup having played a pair of pre-season games to this point, recording a 1-1-0 record in the process. Buffalo beat the Minnesota Wild by a 3-2 margin on the road on Monday night before taking a 5-2 loss at the hands of the Senators in Buffalo on Wednesday night.
Goaltender Robin Lehner — acquired by Buffalo at the draft — is slated to get the start and play two periods of tonight's game. Lehner made his Sabres debut this past Wednesday and took the loss for Buffalo. Nathan Lieuwen will serve as Lehner's backup.
Here is tonight's projected Leafs lineup...
40 Grabner - 43 Kadri - 19 Lupul
61 Brown - 33 Arcobello - 84 Marner
26 Winnik - 16 Spaling - 15 Parenteau
18 Panik - 53 Carrick - 39 Frattin
2 Hunwick - 3 Phaneuf
36 Harrington - 44 Rielly
65 Loov - 50 Percy