While it may be too early in the season – even a 48-game season – for the Buffalo Sabres to panic, their three-game losing streak at least is cause for raised eyebrows.
The Sabres can take a step tonight by climbing out of the last-place tie they share with the Toronto Maple Leafs when the Leafs blow into town for a 7 p.m. faceoff (MSG). Buffalo already beat Toronto once this season, a 2-1 win last week in the Air Canada Centre, and that has Sabres fans hoping for a repeat showing.
Buffalo's been getting strong goaltending from Ryan Miller, who hasn't surrendered more than three goals in any of his four games so far. He also held the surprisingly high-scoring Leafs to their lowest goal output of the season last week.
But the Sabres' offense has yet to hold up its end of the bargain. Aside from the season-opening 5-2 win over the Flyers, Buffalo hasn't scored more than three goals in a game. Their 2.6 goals per game are only 18th in the league, and no one outside the top line of Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville and Cody Hodgson has multiple goals thus far.
The offense should get a boost from Vanek, who sat out the Capitals game Sunday but is expected back tonight. Also look for Mikhail Grigorenko to remain in the lineup. His five-game tryout is over, meaning the Sabres either have to return him to juniors or keep him and forfeit his amateur status. But he's improved each game and got his highest ice time total Sunday while nearly converting several chances, so it seems only a matter of time before his chances start converting.
"I learn things every day here," he said. "I feel like here, I can learn a lot of things, and I can improve a lot. I'd be really happy to stay."
Buffalo failed to take advantage last week despite the victory, but the Leafs' questionable goaltending situation seems ripe for the plucking for Buffalo's snipers. Ben Scrivens (1-2-0, 2.96 GAA) and James Reimer (1-1-0, 3.17 GAA) have essentially split time, with neither one earning the outright trust of the coaching staff. A good offensive outing would start at the faceoff circle. Buffalo's league-worst faceoff percentage dipped to 40.1 percent after Sunday's loss.
Also key is creating more shots. Buffalo surpassed 40 shots against the Hurricanes last week, but the Sabres reverted to their old, passive, pass-first ways against Washington, cutting down their shot output by about half while generating few rebound opportunities. If you keep shooting, you will convert in time, so Buffalo needs to emphasize testing the goalie rather than searching for the perfect shot.
Nazem Kadri, Mikhail Grabovski and James van Riensdyk each have three goals to lead the Leafs. Kadri also has two assists to lead the team with five points.
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