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Preview: Sabres at Maple Leafs

Centers Jack Eichel, Auston Matthews face off for first time in NHL

by Dave McCarthy / Correspondent

SABRES (17-17-9) at MAPLE LEAFS (20-13-8)

7:30 p.m. ET; SNO, MSG-B, NHL.TV


Sabres team scope

Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel will play against Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews for the first time in the NHL. The two know each other well having played together with the U.S National Under-18 team and for Team North America at the World Cup of Hockey 2016. "He's a good guy, I know him pretty well," said Eichel, who missed a 2-1 loss to the Maple Leafs on Nov. 3 game while recovering from a high ankle sprain. "I spent a lot of time with him, he's a good dude so I'm happy to see him having success. I look forward to playing against him tonight." The Sabres play the second of back-to-back games after defeating the Dallas Stars 4-1 on Monday. Goalie Robin Lehner will start after making 31 saves against the Stars. Forward Tyler Ennis scored 19 seconds into his first game since Nov. 7 after missing 30 because of a groin injury. "It adds certainly a different dynamic to our line with Ryan O'Reilly and Kyle Okposo," coach Dan Bylsma said. "He has speed and agility and can really pull off anything at a moment's notice. It adds a little bit more of a dynamic to our top lines."


Maple Leafs team scope

The Maple Leafs begin the second half of their season tied with the Ottawa Senators (48 points) for third place in the Atlantic Division. They have won their past two games and are 8-1-1 in their past 10 after going 2-4-3 in their previous nine. "We're happy with where we are at but we know we have a long way to go so I think it is a little bit of a balance," defenseman Morgan Rielly said. "We should be proud of what we've been able to do in the past 10 games but we're only halfway through. We have a lot of hockey left to play. We have to be aware the push starts now, teams come back from their breaks and they're ready to play." Coach Mike Babcock did his best to temper the growing excitement for the Maple Leafs' recent success. "We have a lot of work to do," Babcock said. "We're 41 games in. Let's just everybody try to get better here today. If we do that, we have a chance to be a good team as we move ahead." Goalie Frederik Andersen will start after backing up Curtis McElhinney in a 4-2 win against Ottawa on Saturday. 


Sabres projected lineup

Tyler Ennis -- Ryan O'Reilly -- Kyle Okposo

Marcus Foligno -- Jack Eichel -- Sam Reinhart

Evander Kane -- Zemgus Girgensons -- Brian Gionta

Matt Moulson -- Cal O'Reilly -- Will Carrier

Jake McCabe -- Rasmus Ristolainen

Zach Bogosian -- Cody Franson

Justin Falk -- Taylor Fedun

Robin Lehner

Anders Nilsson

Scratched: Nicolas Deslauriers

Injured: Johan Larsson (wrist/hand); Josh Gorges (hip); Dmitry Kulikov (back)


Maple Leafs projected lineup

James van Riemsdyk -- Tyler Bozak -- Mitchell Marner

Leo Komarov -- Nazem Kadri -- William Nylander

Zach Hyman -- Auston Matthews -- Connor Brown

Matt Martin -- Frederik Gauthier -- Nikita Soshnikov

Morgan Rielly -- Nikita Zaitsev

Jake Gardiner -- Connor Carrick

Matt Hunwick -- Roman Polak

Frederik Andersen

Curtis McElhinney

Scratched: Josh Leivo, Frank Corrado

Injured: Ben Smith (hand), Martin Marincin (lower body)


Status report

Gorges will see a doctor in the next two days to get a further update on his condition, according to Bylsma. … Smith is scheduled to have the pins inserted during hand surgery removed Thursday. He has not played since a 2-1 overtime win against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Dec. 17. "We could obviously really use him," Babcock said. "He's a diligent pro and does things right. He's skating good." … Marincin participated in the morning skate but is not ready to return.


Who's hot

Eichel scored twice and had 10 of Buffalo's 29 shots on Monday. … Ryan O'Reilly has one goal and six assists in his past seven games. … Brown has five goals and two assists in his past six games. … Marner has six assists during a three-game point streak. He has nine points (2-7-9) in his past six games. … Bozak has three goals and five assists during a five-game point streak. Kadri has five goals and two assists during a five-game point streak.

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