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Sabres look forward to renewal of rivalry with Leafs

Eichel resumes skating; Johnson to start Monday

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

Marco Scandella was back on the ice for practice at KeyBank Center on Sunday morning after sustaining a lower-body injury in Florida on Friday night. Scandella went into the boards awkwardly on a hit from Florida's Nick Bjugstad and did not return after the first period. 

Whether or not Scandella will be ready to return to the lineup when the Buffalo Sabres host the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday depends on how he reacts to practice. Hearing him talk about the matchup, however, it's safe to say his preference is to play. 

"I've been waiting all year for this game," Scandella said. "I know that there's a huge rivalry with the Leafs and we haven't played them all year. I've been on the team for how many games now, 65 games? And we haven't played them yet. So, I've been itching for this one."

Thanks to a scheduling anomaly, Monday's matchup will be the first of the season between the Sabres and their rivals to the north. That means they'll have a steady diet of one another moving forward, with four head-to-head matchups from Monday through April 2. 

Jason Pominville last experienced the rivalry on March 21, 2013, a 5-4 shootout win for Buffalo at KeyBank Center. He's intrigued to see how it's held up five years later.

"It's weird the way the schedule is built," Pominville said. "In the past it feels like we have always played them late a little bit, but to have not played them at this point home or away is definitely different and something we're not used to.

"For me, it's been a while, so I'm interested to see if it's still the same way where their fans manage to get tickets in here and be pretty loud. It should be a pretty good atmosphere."

The Maple Leafs are currently without star center Auston Matthews, out for the last four games with a shoulder injury. They are winless in their last three contests, including a 5-2 loss in their Stadium Series game against Washington on Saturday. 

Speaking to reporters after the game, Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock let it be known that he was displeased with his team's effort, saying they would make up for their lack of work in practice on Sunday. 

The Sabres, then, know to be prepared for an emotional opponent.

"It's knowing where your opponent's at for sure," Pominville said. "I feel like it's happened to us a bit where we played teams that come off losses and they're looking to bounce back. It's going to happen. But when you hear things like that it makes you want to prepare even more."

Monday's game will be broadcast nationally on NBCSN, or you can listen live on WGR 550. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:30. 

Eichel returns to the ice

Jack Eichel has taken a step forward in his recovery from a high-ankle sprain. Eichel began skating on Saturday, according to Sabres coach Phil Housley, and is moving forward with the goal of returning to the lineup before the end of the season. 

Eichel leads the Sabres with 53 points despite missing the last 10 games with the injury. 

"That's the goal, but we never know how these things react," Housley said. "We don't want to put any timeline on it. It's good to see him skating. I think that's a step in the right direction. Obviously, he wants to play some games before the end of the year."

Video: Phil Housley After Practice (3/4/18)

In other injury-related news, Evan Rodrigues was absent from practice on Sunday and remains day-to-day after sustaining a rib injury in Tampa on Wednesday. Housley said he expects Rodrigues to return to the ice at some point this week. 


Johnson to start against Maple Leafs

Chad Johnson has been the hot hand in net for the Sabres of late, with wins in five of his last seven starts. While Johnson earned the win in Tampa last Wednesday, Housley said the decision was made to start Robin Lehner in Florida on Friday because of the amount of games coming up on their schedule. 

"We knew that Chad was playing well," Housley said. "We had to get Robin back in the net. Safe to say that Chad will be playing tomorrow. We just wanted to alternate them. We've got a back-to-back situation coming up this week, so we'll see about that next game on Wednesday."


Lines at practice

28 Zemgus Girgensons - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 23 Sam Reinhart
20 Scott Wilson - 22 Johan Larsson - 29 Jason Pominville
17 Jordan Nolan - 10 Jacob Josefson - 21 Kyle Okposo
25 Seth Griffith - 67 Benoit Pouliot - 13 Nicholas Baptiste

6 Marco Scandella - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
93 Victor Antipin - 8 Casey Nelson
41 Justin Falk / 4 Josh Gorges - 82 Nathan Beaulieu

40 Robin Lehner
31 Chad Johnson

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