TORONTO – Tuesday night’s contest against the Toronto Maple Leafs wraps up a string of four-straight road games for the Buffalo Sabres. The team stopped home on Monday for practice before heading north of the border but the team feels like this game is a continuation of their trip to California last week, which they capped off with a victory in San Jose.
“We started to do some good things on that West Coast trip that we have to build off of,” captain Brian Gionta said. “We still are a little inconsistent at times and that catches up with you. If we can put a 60-minute effort in where we’re going, we’re doing the right things, playing the game the right way, I like our chances.”
The Sabres and Maple Leafs are set to square off at 7:30 p.m. from Air Canada Centre with the Tops Gamenight pregame show starting at 7 p.m. on MSG-B and Bell TV. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550.
Michal Neuvirth will start in net for the Sabres while Jonathan Bernier will go for Toronto.
SPECIAL TEAMS WORK
Both teams have had their struggles on the power play recently. The Maple Leafs haven’t scored a goal on the man advantage in five games after scoring at least one in each of their first three.
Buffalo is still looking for its first power-play goal of the season. They’re currently 0-for-30.
What do the Sabres feel they need to do in order to get the power play on track?
“Score. Put home one,” forward Chris Stewart said. “The first one’s always tough to get, but it’s definitely a long year. We will get it in eventually, that’s for sure, but it’s time to get desperate. When you’re struggling, you’ve got to put pucks to the net and guys to the net and get that ugly one.”
One reason teams can have trouble converting both at even strength and on special teams is skaters are blocking shots that never even make it to the goaltender.
Buffalo leads the League with 172 blocked shots overall and defenseman Josh Gorges has blocked a League-high 41 shots on his own (Calgary’s Kris Russell is second with “only” 29 blocks).
Gorges also has blocked 16.1 percent of all opponent shot attempts taken with him on the ice this season, the fourth-highest percentage among NHL defensemen who have faced at least 50 shot attempts. Jared Spurgeon of the Wild leads the way in on-ice block percentage at 17.9 percent. He’s sixth in the NHL with 22 blocked shots.
As a team, the Maple Leafs are 14th overall in total blocked shots.
When it comes to the power play, the team on the attack needs to find different ways to put the puck on net because the defending players aren’t likely to get out of the way.
“You’ve got guys who are going to sacrifice and do everything they can to get in the lane and block those shots,” Gionta said. “You’ve got to be creative, you’ve got to be moving and supporting each other and you’ve got to find those lanes. Sometimes, you pass up a shot, [if] you have that lane, you have to take it nowadays.”
26 Matt Moulson – 63 Tyler Ennis – 80 Chris Stewart
19 Cody Hodgson – 17 Torrey Mitchell – 21 Drew Stafford
82 Marcus Foligno – 28 Zemgus Girgensons – 12 Brian Gionta
44 Nicolas Deslauriers – 23 Sam Reinhart – 8 Cody McCormick
4 Josh Gorges – 57 Tyler Myers
6 Mike Weber – 41 Andrej Meszaros
61 Andre Benoit – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
34 Michal Neuvirth
1 Jhonas Enroth
Healthy Scratches: 24 Tyson Strachan, 51 Nikita Zadorov, 65 Brian Flynn
Injured Reserve: 31 Matt Hackett, 36 Patrick Kaleta
Torrey Mitchell started his career at center and said he actually feels more comfortable at that position. It’ll be his first game centering a line featuring Cody Hodgson and Drew Stafford.
“You’re almost more involved around the ice and it’s a little bit more responsibility,” he said. “It gets you in the game faster right away.”
Rookie Sam Reinhart, the second-overall pick in this year’s draft, will play his eighth game for the Sabres.
Sabres coach Ted Nolan said that he will have a discussion with Tim Murray soon about whether Reinhart will play the entire season in Buffalo or if he’ll be sent to his junior club in Kootenay. Reinhart is eligible to play in nine NHL games before that decision must be made.