The Leafs look to hold onto their reclaimed playoff spot by turning a pair of wins into a winning streak against the League’s worst team, but must do so in a back-to-back situation while a chunk of their roster battles the flu bug.
– The Maple Leafs are 4-5-0 in the second game of a back to back. The Sabres also played last night, losing 4-3 to the Flyers.
– The Leafs returned to a playoff spot with their second straight win last night, but the hold is tenuous: They’re at 51 points through 48 games while the Wings have 50 in 46 and the Sens 50 in 47.
– The Sabres are averaging a hilarious 1.64 goals per game. The last team to finish below 2 per game on average was the Lightning in 1997-98 with a 1.84 GF/G. This is historically bad stuff and it’s looking like the Sabres will go down in the record books as we’re now at the 45-game mark in their season and they’ve actually trended downward since the Leafs last met them on December 27 (down from 1.68/game).
– Amazingly, the Sabres are averaging 1.64 goals against per game overall and yet they have 11 in 4 games against the Leafs (2.75/game). The Leafs have taken 5 of 8 points from the Sabres, and same goes of the Sabres from the Leafs. This is the last of five meetings on the season and it will determine who takes the season series. 7/10 points seems like a minimum requirement in five games versus the Sabres, so hopefully the Leafs can make that happen tonight.
– Two regulation-overtime wins in a row (pun intended), could it be? The Leafs haven’t accomplished that feat in nearly two months (November 16-19 vs. the Sabres and Islanders, who have a combined 31-50-8 record).
– Dave Farrish decided to move Jake Gardiner onto powerplay unit 1 in the place of Franson last night because Franson is one of the Leafs feeling the effects of the flu and wasn’t playing at 100%. It added a nice right-side halfwall threat when the opponent double teamed Kessel on the left halfwall, which Phil took advantage of brilliantly with a one-touch rocket-propelled cross-ice pass to Gardiner for Jake’s goal last night. It’s hard to argue with the results when the Leafs have been near the top of the league in powerplay percentage all season, but I’ve also always liked the idea of a puck rusher/mover accompanying a trigger man, which is what the Phaneuf-Gardiner/Rielly-Franson pairs accomplish.
– Tyler Bozak played a whopping 24 minutes last night, and who could argue? Besides the production (2g, 1a), that was a key play by Bozak last night to tie up a stick to the side of the net in the final seconds as the loose puck bounced around the crease.
– Bozak has now put up 79% of last season’s production in half the number of games. Bozie has been johnny on the spot, shooting 28%. Enjoy it while it lasts.
– Only 5 of Bozak’s 22 points have come on the powerplay this season. During his eight game point streak before it was snapped vs. Washington, Bozak had 11 points, 10 of which were at evens. The Leafs are bottom 10 in even strength goals per game, so this is vital stuff Bozak has been providing.
– Peter Holland broke 10 minutes last night in his first game back, which was nice to see. Carlyle has to stay creative in how he manages the minutes so as to ensure Holland’s numbers stay north of 9 or 10 minutes. .
– James Reimer will start for the Leafs in just his third start in three weeks. He is 6-2-2 against the Sabres lifetime with a .903 save percentage.
– Randy Carlyle said after the game that the flu bug has bitten seven Maple Leaf players so far. We’ll have to see if it affects the lineup again tonight. We won’t have much information until right before game time with it being a back to back situation.