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Maple Leafs hope to get right, healthy during hiatus

Play once in eight days after tough trip ends with another loss in Buffalo

by Mike Zeisberger @Zeisberger / Staff Writer

BUFFALO -- It's a 100-mile drive from downtown Toronto to Buffalo. More often than not for the Toronto Maple Leafs and their fans, it has been a journey of the doomed.

Since the Buffalo Sabres entered the NHL in 1970, the Maple Leafs have 29 wins in 105 regular-season games here.

That futility continued at KeyBank Center on Monday, when a 5-3 loss to the Sabres dropped the Maple Leafs to 29-64-6 with six ties all time in Buffalo.

Of greater concern to the Maple Leafs is that they returned home early Tuesday having lost all four games on their road trip (0-2-2). Coming off a one-sided loss to Washington Capitals in the 2018 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series in Annapolis, Maryland, after overtime losses to the Tampa Lightning and Florida Panthers, the loss to the Sabres left a sour taste in the mouth of coach Mike Babcock and his players.

If ever there was a team that needed a chance to reboot, it's this one.

Fortunately for the Maple Leafs, they'll get exactly that. Toronto will play once in the next eight days, against the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins at Air Canada Centre on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, CBC, SN, CITY, TVAS, ATTSN-PT, NHL.TV).

The hope is that this minibreak will provide some much-needed healing time for forward Auston Matthews and rest time for goalie Frederik Andersen.

Matthews injured his shoulder against the New York Islanders on Feb. 22 and has been out of the lineup ever since. The Maple Leafs have won once in his absence (1-2-2).

Andersen, meanwhile, has allowed 10 goals on the past 49 shots he's faced. Leading all NHL goaltenders in minutes played (3,325:49), shots faced (1,895) and saves (1,741), he'll need to be fresh if Toronto plans to make a run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Video: TOR@BUF: Andersen makes huge stick save on Beaulieu

With 14 games remaining on the schedule (nine road, five home), Babcock's goal is to get his struggling team straightened out down the stretch.

"The bottom line is you've got to get it turned around," Babcock said. "You can't continue to lose hockey games.

"I think on this trip we were playing all right. I didn't think we played very good at all against Washington and we were outplayed and slapped around. [The Sabres] game -- it was kind of a weird game, to say the least. The puck went in our net, it went in our net frequently, and we weren't able to recover.

"I just want us to play at the top of our game each and every night. Even though you want that all the time, that's not going to happen necessarily all the time. We've just got to get back to work, and we'll do that. Like you mentioned, we have a little hiatus this week, we'll get back to work and get our guys freshened up and ready to play a good Pittsburgh team."

Babcock was asked if the heavy workload this season was beginning to take its toll on Andersen.

"I just think it's like all of us," he said. "We're all human and it doesn't go the way you want all the time.

"He's got to get back to work like the rest of the group."

To be fair, Andersen had zero puck luck against the Sabres. Buffalo's first goal was a deflection; the second bounced in off Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri's skate; the third ricocheted in off Sabres forward Zemgus Girgensons' skate; and the fourth came off a clearing attempt that deflected off referee Kendrick Nicholson's skate directly onto Sabres forward Ryan O'Reilly's stick.

"It was pretty crazy," Andersen said. "I think it seemed like everything just hit something and found a way into the net. In the big picture, they earned their bounces. They got the puck to the net.

"I think if we can find a little bit more, every one of us, we should be fine. It's about going back to what we were successful with. We have a few days to figure that out."

The Maple Leafs (39-22-7) trail the Boston Bruins by five points for second place in the Atlantic Division but are 15 ahead of the fourth-place Florida Panthers, so they seemingly are in a comfortable position for a playoff spot.

Their form right now is another story. Indeed, with less than five weeks remaining in the regular season, time is ticking on Babcock and his team to regain their lost form.

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