The winning streak was never going to last forever, but a win in one of the two games after would have been nice. After winning 10 in a row the Buffalo Sabres now find themselves on a three-game losing streak (0-2-1) having lost 2-1 last night at Nashville to the Predators. The home team bottled the Sabres up through much of the game then choked them off in the third period while holding a one-goal lead. Of the eight third period shots on goal for the Sabres, five of them came with the goalie pulled late in the frame and none of them got by Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne.
Nashville won despite missing a lot of firepower in leading goal-scorer Filip Forsberg, forwards Viktor Arvidsson and Kyle Turris plus defenseman P.K. Subban. Head coach Peter Laviolette wanted his players to stick to their up-tempo identity but also needed them to keep things tight against a team like Buffalo. "With a lot of key pieced out of our lineup, I just think it's important to stick to our identity," he told the local media post-game. "But, we also understand there's less room for error and we have to make sure we're sharp.
"They've (the Sabres) have a lot of people that can hurt you. They're a dangerous team, they're playing fast and they're on the attack. I thought our guys did a real good job of just trying to stay above them, stay tight and check tight in the defensive zone."
Welcome to playoff-style hockey.
The teams Buffalo has been facing lately are quality teams hell-bent on bringing their best against the hottest team in the league. The San Jose' Sharks laid a heavy, fast game on the Sabres, the Tampa Bay Lightning brought speed and firepower and the Preds locked it down on defense with Rinne, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, there to clean up the mistakes.
All-in-all, one-goal games against some of the top teams in the league is great for a team like Buffalo that has a very young core. Winning as many as they have helps them move forward with confidence, but playing against an array of styles in a playoff-like atmosphere with the opposition playing their best is an invaluable experience for them.
That will get kicked up a notch tonight as we introduce the word 'archrival' into the mix. Only 100 miles separates Buffalo from Toronto but there's a huge chasm in perceived National Hockey League stature. While Torontonians consider themselves at the Center of the Hockey Universe, the Sabres have been looked upon as peasant-like at best and a grubby little street urchin at worst. Yet, despite howls of superiority from high atop Mount Maple Leaf, in the 211 games played between these two clubs since the Sabres came into the league in 1970-71, Buffalo has a 115-69-26 record against the Leafs, 70-28-8 at home.
Tonight will be the first of four games between the two clubs this season and we should see large clumps of Blue and White at KeyBank Center as the annual flight of the Leaf fan to downtown Buffalo commences. Such is the harmonic conversion of proximity, exorbitant prices at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto and the willingness on the part of Buffalo ticketholders to sell their tickets at inflated prices to Leafs fans. Those two forces up in the stands should provide a raucous atmosphere tonight as the two teams on the ice, with only one point separating them in the standings, battle for Atlantic Division and QEW superiority.
Toronto has been a dangerous offensive club lately with a top-five finish in goals-for the past two seasons. Over the summer they added to that by signing premier free agent center John Tavares and despite a lengthy holdout by sniper William Nylander, they're still tied for third in the league at 3.63 goals/game. Nylander ended his holdout on Saturday and will join the Leafs just in time for the Sabres game tonight.
Buffalo will need to keep well-grounded tonight and stay out of the penalty box as the Leafs have the third best powerplay in the league at 29% on a league-least 69 opportunities. They'll also need to deal with a one-two punch at center featuring Tavares and Auston Matthews. Tavares' 17 goals ties him for seventh in the league while Matthews is tied for 17th with 13 goals. However, Matthews has played in only 13 games this season due to injury. He's played in two games for the Leafs since his return scoring three goals and adding an assist.
Tonight will be a huge challenge for the Sabres, especially coming off of a loss last night to Nashville to end a road-trip and finding themselves with a three-game losing streak. But regardless of the circumstances either team finds themselves in, Toronto/Buffalo is a rivalry that just keeps getting.