Sabres Projected Lines:
Victor Olofsson – Jack Eichel – Sam Reinhart
Casey Mittelstadt – Marcus Johansson – Jimmy Vesey
Jeff Skinner – Johan Larsson – Conor Sheary
Zemgus Girgensons – Rasmus Asplund – Jean-Sebastien Dea
Marco Scandella – Rasmus Ristolainen
Brandon Montour – Zach Bogosian
Jake McCabe – Henri Jokiharju
Maple Leafs Projected Lines:
Andreas Johnsson – Auston Matthews – William Nylander
Ilya Mikheyev – John Tavares – Zach Hyman
Nic Petan – Jason Spezza – Kasperi Kapanen
Pierre Engvall – Frederik Gauthier – Dmytro Timashov
Morgan Reilly – Cody Ceci
Jake Muzzin – Justin Holl
Travis Dermott – Tyson Barrie
Keys to the Game
#1. Limit the defensive mishaps
The Sabres have had too many solid defensive performances this season ruined by one or two brutal defensive mishaps that leads to a goal for the opposition. They are fresh off a game where Rasmus Ristolainen got caught behind his own net which lead to the OT winner. These errors cannot happen against this Toronto Maple Leafs because they will make you pay. Their 2.48 xGF/60 is the 7th highest in the league and that mark should only improve under Sheldon Keefe. They have talented forwards on all four lines who can really push the pace of the game and are coming off a 6-goal performance against the Red Wings. The Sabres cannot let this one turn into a barn burner because the Leafs will probably come out on top. One or two goals ugly goals allowed by the Sabres and this game could get out of hand real quick.
#2. Improved middle six play
The 2nd and 3rd lines have been an issue for the Sabres for a while, but they both had excellent games against Calgary after Krueger decided to shake things up. The middle six had a very impressive 62 xGF% against the Flames. Some people may question why Jeff Skinner is on the “3rd line” (yes, I still think he should be on Eichel’s wing instead of Reinhart), but hockey is a strong link game. The team with the best player on the ice typically wins. Since your top line cannot be out there for the whole game, it makes sense to spread your top forward lines across multiple lines. I felt that the 3rd line at the beginning of the season was just a group of players thrown together simply because they did not fit in top six. Now, I feel like these middle six lines actually have some meaning to them, like a recipe with three very distinct ingredients that somehow work.
#3. Jack Eichel vs. Auston Matthews
These games tend to bring out the best of both teams’ young stars. Jack Eichel has 10 goals (the most against any NHL team) and 6 assists in 13 games against the Leafs. Auston Matthews has 9 goals and 5 assists in 11 games against the Sabres. When these two squads met for the first time last season, Eichel netted two goals to give the Sabres a 3-2 lead and then Auston Matthews went on two score his 2nd of the game with a few seconds left in OT. That was a game that many Sabres fans probably wish they could erase from their memories, but it really showed just how talented these two young American stars truly are. Can we also talk about how disappointing it will be if we never get to see these two represent Team USA at the Olympics? Anyways, it should be a fun game and I know Jack Eichel is going to be very motivated to walk away with a W tonight.