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Sharpen Up: March 25, 2017

by Chris Ryndak @ChrisRyndak /

Buffalo and Toronto are set to play for the fourth time this season with the fifth and final meeting coming up on April 3. The last time out, Buffalo defeated the Maple Leafs 3-1 in Toronto back on Feb. 11. Evander Kane scored twice that night and Robin Lehner made 43 saves. 

What's in store for tonight?

Here's what you need to know.

The Sabres practiced yesterday for the first time since the NHL Department of Player Safety handed down a three-game suspension to defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen for his interference Tuesday night on Jake Guentzel. 

The team reacted to the suspension yesterday, which you can read about in yesterday's Ice Level Practice Report.

Buffalo is set to get some now-not-so-injured bodies back in the lineup as Kyle Okposo, William Carrier, Dmitry Kulikov and Justin Falk are all set to return. However, the Sabres will still be down a defenseman, so they've recalled Brady Austin from Rochester.

Austin made his NHL debut on Monday in Detroit and then logged 19:00 of ice time on Tuesday against the Penguins.

And with Risto out, the power-play units have been tweaked. The Sabres will likely go with five forwards - Kane, Okposo, Jack Eichel, Ryan O'Reilly and Sam Reinhart - on their first unit. Brian Duff has more on those changes in Sabres in :90:

Video: Sabres in :90 (3/24/17)
Buffalo's power play, at 23.9 percent, is second only to Toronto's in the NHL. The Leafs' power play is clicking at 24.1 percent.

What to watch tonight

The home team has won 23 of the last 28 games between the Sabres and the Maple Leafs.

The Sabres are 17-2-1 in their last 20 home games against the Maple Leafs. Toronto's win in Buffalo on Nov. 3, 2016 snapped a seven-game winning streak for the Sabres that lasted 1,373 days.

Each team has won its last road game the series, marking the first time the Sabres and Maple Leafs have won in each other's arenas in the same season since 2012-13.

The Maple Leafs haven't won consecutive games in Buffalo since March 21 and Dec. 12, 2008.


Sabres to watch tonight

Eichel has not gone two games without a point since Jan. 31 and Feb. 2. In the 24 games since, Eichel has totaled 29 points (9+20). He also has 29 points (11+18) in 26 home games this season, including nine multi-point outings.

Eichel has been a point-per-game guy against Toronto too. He's racked up five points (1+4) in five career games against the Maple Leafs.

Ryan O'Reilly has 25 points (8+17) in his last 23 home games.

Evander Kane has 10 points (7+3) in his last nine home games. Kane also has eight points (6+2) in his last eight games against Toronto.

Reinhart has totaled three points (1+2) in three games against Toronto this season.

Jake McCabe has recorded eight (2+6) of his 19 points in his last 13 games, averaging 21:36 of ice time per game during that stretch.

Robin Lehner has stopped 160 of 170 shots (.941) in his last five appearances.

(All this from the Game Notes, which you should always check out)


And congratulations to Brian Gionta…

The Buffalo chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association selected the Sabres captain as the team's nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy.

The trophy is awarded annually to "the National Hockey League player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey. 

The winner is selected in a poll of all chapters of the PHWA at the end of the regular season.

A grant from the PHWA is awarded annually to the Bill Masterton Scholarship Fund, based in Bloomington, Minn., in the name of the Masterton Trophy winner.

The trophy was presented by the NHL Writers' Association in 1968 to commemorate the late William Masterton, a player for the Minnesota North Stars, who exhibited, to a high degree, the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. Masterton died on Jan. 15, 1968, after an injury sustained during a game."


On tap today

We'll have full pregame coverage for you as the Morning Skate happens.

Then check out the Tops Game Night pregame show starting at 6:30 p.m. on MSG. RJ and Rayzor have the call just after 7.  

Be sure to log on to after the game for full recaps and postgame reaction. You know, the stuff you've always come to expect from us.  


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