Sabres looking to avoid dubious slice of history against Leafs

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Sabres looking to avoid dubious slice of history against Leafs

Post by admin » Fri Nov 29, 2019 7:44 am

Through five decades of hockey, the Buffalo Sabres have always had plenty of success against the Toronto Maple Leafs. From the Aud to Maple Leaf Gardens and now from KeyBank Center to Scotiabank Arena, wins and goals have been plentiful. And so has the byplay in the stands.

The Sabres once scored 11 goals in a game in Toronto in 1975 and battered the Leafs, 14-4, in an 1981 game at the Aud that saw them explode for a nine-goal second period that still stands as an NHL record. In 33 of the games, they've scored at least six goals against Toronto. They even beat the Leafs in five games in the 1999 Eastern Conference finals to earn their last trip to the Stanley Cup final.

But as they try to emerge from yet another slump that has dogged their recent history, the Sabres face a dark reality this weekend: They suddenly can't beat their fiercest rival.

A loss in Friday afternoon's matinee against the Leafs downtown would be Buffalo's sixth straight against Toronto, something that has never happened since the Sabres entered the NHL in 1970. And that figure could quickly get to No. 7 as the teams meet again Saturday night in Toronto.

"That gives us motivation but just the game overall gives me motivation," defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen said after the club's Thanksgiving Day practice in the arena. "We haven't got too many wins lately so we need it bad."

The Sabres were swept by the Leafs last year for the first time (going 0-3-1) and haven't beaten them in more than 20 months, since a 3-2 win in Toronto on March 28, 2016. Buffalo's last five-game losing streak against Toronto dates to 1972, as does the last time it dropped as many as the current three in a row at home.

The timing for this home-and-home set isn't great. The Leafs are 3-0 under new coach Sheldon Keefe and letting their talent fly all over the ice with the shackles of Mike Babcock now on the unemployment line. They're coming off Wednesday's 6-0 win in Detroit that saw them unleash a 54-shot barrage at the Red Wings. The Sabres, meanwhile, are just 3-9-3 in their last 15 games.

Ristolainen often seems to be in the center of things against the Leafs but longtime adversary Nazem Kadri is no longer part of the rivalry after he was traded to Colorado following last season.

Still, when asked if the absence of Kadri put a crimp on the rivalry for him, Ristolainen said no way.

"I like it a lot. They all look the same," he said of the Leafs. "Same sweater. Same helmets. They're all enemies. Just get a win."

Captain Jack Eichel stayed to a similar party line.

"They're the next team on our schedule and it's important to get divisional wins," Eichel said. "We have to start finding wins against everyone and the Leafs are a team we play a lot in our division."

Coach Ralph Krueger knows rivalries, having been a part of some Edmonton-Calgary games during his three seasons with the Oilers as both an assistant and head coach. He said he's looking forward to his first chance at this one, even though it will not be against former Canadian Olympic team partner Babcock.

"We're really excited about it. It's been highlighted on the calendar for a while, this back to back," Krueger said. "You can feel the energy in the room. We're going to make the picture nice and small and do our best to play some strong hockey here.

"The rivalry will bring emotion into the building. We know there will be a mix of people from Canada and Buffalo supporting both sides, which will create that bit of an atmosphere like I'm used to often in Europe where there's lots of road fans. It will certainly give a spark to the game."

The Sabres have played the Leafs 214 times in their history, winning 115 and getting a tie or overtime/shootout loser point in 27 other games. That's a lifetime points percentage of .600, their best against any Atlantic Division opponent.

The Leafs enter this set two points ahead of the Sabres, although Buffalo has a game in hand. After a 3-7 start on the road, the Leafs have posted wins at Arizona, Colorado and Detroit on this trip after Babcock was fired following last week's 4-2 loss in Vegas.

"I don't really think about other teams too much but I saw they got a new head coach so they're probably excited and trying to get back on track," Ristolainen said. "It's always a tough game and it's nice to have some Leafs fans here with the Sabres fans."

Auston Matthews leads the Leafs with 16 goals and 30 points while Eichel, his former World Junior teammate, tops the Sabres at 14-17-31. Matthews burned Buffalo with an overtime goal here last December in the final three seconds of the extra session.

"It's always good," Eichel said. "We always bring out the best in each other and it's good competition."

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