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SABRES LOOK TO CLEAN UP DEFENSIVE ZONE PLAY AGAINST TORONTO

by Chris Ryndak / Buffalo Sabres

It’s been one year to the day since Ted Nolan stepped back behind the Buffalo Sabres bench for the first time since 1997.

His Sabres defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-1 at home.

Now, on the one-year anniversary, the Maple Leafs are back in town for a 7 p.m. faceoff at First Niagara Center. The Tops Gamenight pregame show begins at 6:30 p.m. on MSG-B. The game can also be seen on Hockey Night in Canada north of the border and heard everywhere on WGR 550.

Buffalo will try to get back in the win column after going 0-4-1 in its past five games. The players know that they have to start by improving in their defensive zone.

“It’s playing smarter. We’re sometimes pinching on things we shouldn’t have or getting a guy low and having odd-man rushes against us,” Marcus Foligno, who returns to the lineup after missing Thursday’s game in Minnesota, said.

“It’s also more of a D-zone thing too where we’re losing some battles and all it needs is a little bit harder work. Our work ethic’s got to be a little better.

“We have a chance here against Toronto where we’ve had some good games against them in this building. Hopefully we can pull out a win tonight and change that.”

Buffalo has had great success recently with Toronto in town. The Sabres are 13-1-1 in their past 15 home games against the Maple Leafs, including wins in their last three.

Toronto hasn’t won in Buffalo since Jan. 29, 2013, with their last regulation win in Buffalo coming on Feb. 16, 2011. They’re coming off a 2-1 loss at home to Pittsburgh on Friday.


ROOKIE ON THE RISE
Sabres rookie defenseman Nikita Zadorov led the team in ice time in their 6-3 loss to the Wild. He set career-highs with 25:17 played, a plus-3 rating and four hits. Because of the result, he sees room for every player to improve.

“Everyone in this room knows their mistakes, especially me too. Everyone in this room should be better and we’ve got to work as a team,” he said. “It can’t be like one player playing a good game and another player having a bad game. The whole team’s got to play a good game if you want to win the game.”

Lately, Nolan has been quick to praise the efforts of Zadorov, his defensive partner Rasmus Ristolainen and center Zemgus Girgensons.


A TOUGH MATCHUP
Michal Neuvirth will start in goal against a Toronto team boasting one of the hottest lines in the NHL. James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel have combined for 30 points in the Maple Leafs’ past nine games. Toronto is 6-2-1 over that span.

Nolan has his squad putting a lot of the focus on its own play and where it can improve. After an extensive video session on Friday, he hopes the messages that he and the rest of the coaching staff are relaying will sink in soon.

To counter Toronto’s – or any team’s attack – he’s looking for a spirited effort from his club to help overcome any talent discrepancies that may exist.

“A lot of guys need to get angry and find our way through it,” Nolan said. “We’re in a big boys’ league here now. It’s not youth hockey. It’s a man’s league and you have to find a way. We’re here to help guide and show some direction, but when push comes to shove, they have to push down themselves.”


LINEUP NOTES
Alternate captain Josh Gorges will miss the game due to a lower-body injury sustained Tuesday in St. Louis. Nolan said he’ll be out for a little bit and will have a more detailed report soon.

Patrick Kaleta will be a healthy scratch for Buffalo. Thursday marked his first NHL game in 13 months as he recovered from an ACL injury and then surgery to repair broken bones in his face. Defenseman Andre Benoit will also not dress.


RJ RETURNS
If you're watching the local broadcast or listening on the radio, you'll hear a familiar voice. Legendary play-by-play announcer Rick Jeanneret will be back to call the first period.

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