Sabres-Maple Leafs Preview
GAME: Buffalo Sabres (25-11-1) at Toronto Maple Leafs (20-14-3).
TIME: Thursday, 7:30 p.m. EST.
Beating the Buffalo Sabres has been no easy task since the beginning of December.
Buffalo looks to match a franchise record with 11 wins in December when they visit the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Sabres have won 17 of their last 20 games overall, and have 10 wins this month, one shy of the team record for December set in 1976.
Trailing 3-1 after one period Monday against the visiting New York Islanders, Buffalo scored five unanswered goals - three on the power play - en route to a 6-3 victory.
"I think we're pretty fearless," said Chris Drury, who scored 11 seconds after rookie Thomas Vanek gave Buffalo a 4-3 lead with just under five minutes to play. "We just kind of find a way. Nothing really fazes us."
Vanek has six goals in the last nine games, scoring a goal in each of the last three games.
"I think we're good," Vanek said. "We're a good character team, we've got good goaltending, and all of that is paying off for us right now."
Ryan Miller got the win against the Islanders in his second straight start. He is 3-0 with a 1.62 goals-against average and a .940 save percentage after missing almost two months with a broken thumb.
Martin Biron won 13 straight starts from Nov. 15-Dec. 22, compiling a 2.54 GAA during that span. In his last eight games against the Maple Leafs, Biron has four wins, a 2.34 GAA, a .925 save percentage and one shutout.
The Sabres have won 10 of their last 11 games away from home and lead the Eastern Conference with 13 road wins this season.
The Maple Leafs have won three straight overall and four in a row at Air Canada Centre.
Toronto improved to 12-0-1 when leading after two periods with a 3-2 overtime victory at Pittsburgh on Tuesday.
The Maple Leafs allowed 14 shots in the third period, but the Penguins only scored one goal despite having five power plays in the final 20 minutes.
"Our (penalty kill) came through at the end," said Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin, who had a goal and two assists. "It looked like Pittsburgh had enough chances to get the game-winner with a few minutes left. It was a tough game. We battled hard. It was a good two points for us."
Tomas Kaberle scored the game-winning goal 2:26 into overtime and Mikael Tellqvist made 33 saves.
Toronto's goaltending has been stellar in the last three games, allowing only four goals.
Tellqvist is 4-1-1 in his last six starts with a 1.96 GAA and a .935 save percentage while Ed Belfour has given up just two goals in his last two games.
STANDINGS (through Dec. 28): Sabres - 51 points, 2nd place, 4 PB, Northeast Division. Maple Leafs - 43 points, 3rd place, 12 PB, Northeast Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Sabres - Ales Kotalik, 17 goals; Tim Connolly and Teppo Numminen, 21 assists; Kotalik, Drury and Connolly, 28 points; Maxim Afinogenov, 40 PIM. Maple Leafs - Darcy Tucker, 15 goals; Bryan McCabe, 31 assists, 44 points and 52 PIM; McCabe, 52 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS (through Dec. 28): Sabres - Power play: 22 percent (48 for 218), 3rd in NHL. Penalty killing: 84.2 percent (165 for 196), tied for 8th. Maple Leafs - Power play: 20.8 percent (50 for 241), 5th. Penalty killing: 80.8 percent (193 for 239), 24th.
GOALTENDERS: Sabres - Biron (15-5-1, 0 SO, 3.09 GAA); Miller (9-4-0, 2.50). Maple Leafs - Belfour (15-11-2, 3.28); Tellqvist (5-3-1, 1, 2.48).
SEASON SERIES: Sabres, 1-0.
LAST MEETING: Nov. 11; Sabres 5-2. At Buffalo, N.Y., Connolly recorded his first two-goal game and the Sabres scored three times in the third period to snap a four-game losing streak.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Sabres - 13-6-0 on the road; Maple Leafs - 13-7-1 at home.