Game Day: Maple Leafs at Sabres
Buffalo Sabres first-round pick Alexander Nylander meets team executives during the NHL Draft in Buffalo on June 24, 2016. (ERNEST DOROSZUK/Toronto Sun files)
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS at BUFFALO SABRES
Monday, 7 p.m., KeyBank Center
TV: SNO; Radio: 590 AM
THE BIG MATCH-UP
Auston Matthews vs. Rasmus Ristolainen
The Maple Leafs caught a break in their previous meeting as Buffalo defenceman Ristolainen was serving a suspension. He returned to the lineup on Sunday and played a team-high 26 minutes 23 seconds against the New York Islanders. Count on the hot Matthews to see plenty of Ristolainen, not only on Monday, but for the next several seasons to come.
FIVE KEYS TO THE GAME
Matthews on a mission
Auston Matthews needs a point to set a record for most by a Maple Leafs rookie and with 38 goals, has the most by any Leaf since Mats Sundin scored 41 in 2001-02. As much as the Leafs have been getting valuable contributions from the majority of their players, Matthews is behind the steering wheel and needs to be in the final five games. In four games against Buffalo, Matthews has two goals.
Not like last time
The Leafs were bad in Buffalo just nine days ago, losing 5-2 for one of only two losses in regulation in their past 13 games. There’s no plan to repeat that performance. “We weren’t skating,” Matthews said. “They were skating right by us. We gave them a little too much respect in regard to letting them walk right in. We will have to change that and hopefully it will be a different game.”
Kill, kill, kill
The top two power plays in the NHL hook up as the Sabres have moved past the Leafs with a success rate of 24.9%, to Toronto’s 24.2%. The penalty kill for the Leafs is much better, sitting in eighth overall at 83% while the Sabres were 26th at 77.4%. Penalties might be a little harder to come by at this time of year, making special teams that much more crucial. It’s a battle the Leafs can’t lose.
When the Leafs last played in Buffalo, Sabres goalie Robin Lehner was talking about how the club was looking forward to seeing Alex Nylander, the younger brother of Leafs forward William Nylander, as a teammate. William has been great for the Leafs with 15 points in his past 14 games, and could see his brother make his NHL debut on Monday, as Alex was expected to be called up.
The Leafs didn’t practise on Sunday and will have zero excuse for not trying to take control early considering they will be fresh and the Sabres, who played host to the Islanders on Sunday afternoon and lost 4-2, will not be to the same extent. If the Leafs win their final road game of the 2016-17 regular season, they will have 19 road victories, their most since they had 19 in 2010-11.