BUFFALO – Suddenly, the Sabres have a three-game losing streak. Sure, they lost three road contests by one goal. It should also be noted the Tampa Bay Lightning and Nashville Predators, the NHL’s top two clubs points-wise, beat them.
So the Sabres’ 0-2-1 run – they earned a point in Friday’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Florida Panthers – isn’t a normal losing skid.
Still, the Sabres, who have another stiff test tonight against the Toronto Maple Leafs, had just won 10 straight games.
The good news? Speedy Sabres winger Conor Sheary, out the last four games with an upper-body injury, is expected to return tonight, coach Phil Housley said.
“He tracks pucks well, he uses his speed, he’s tenacious, he strips pucks from behind and he’s got a terrific shot,” Housley said of Sheary, who has six goals and 12 points in 24 games.
Housley said an upper-body injury will sideline winger Jason Pominville again tonight. The veteran is day-to-day. Housley said the Sabres’ other injured players – defensemen Jake McCabe and Marco Scandella also have upper-body ailments – are game-time decisions.
Update: McCabe and Scandella are not warming up.
Backup goalie Linus Ullmark will start. Carter Hutton made 23 saves in Monday’s 2-1 loss in Nashville.
Tonight’s tilt at KeyBank Center, the first of four meetings this season, is unique. It marks the first game between the teams in which they’re both occupying a playoff spot since Jan. 21, 2013.
With both teams good again, Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen hopes the rivalry between Buffalo and Toronto is entering a new phase.
“It’s really special when you play Toronto,” Ristolainen said. “They’re one of the top teams in the conference and in our division and we started this year well, so hopefully it will be a good match-up for a long time.”
Leafs coach Mike Babcock said the rivalry boils down to location.
“Everything about it, let’s face it, is the proximity of the two teams,” Babcock said. “Thinking about every time we came here before, there was a lot of energy in the building, a lot of Leafs fans. Pretty soon Leafs fans won’t be able to buy tickets here because Buffalo fans will have bought them already.”
Some other notes on tonight’s game:
– The Sabres have won six straight games at home for the first time Nov. 28 to Dec. 15, 2014. They haven’t won seven consecutive since Oct. 22 to Nov. 24, 1999.
– With McCabe and Scandella out, the Sabres’ penalty killing has struggled over the past four games, allowing five goals on 14 opportunities.
“We got a lot of young guys killing,” Housley said. A”t the same time, I think you just got to find where the weapons are, especially the one-time options. We haven’t taken that away.”
– The Sabres are 70-28-8 at home against the Leafs in their history.