Thursdays are usually busy days, and today is no exception. We’ve got a dozen games to choose from, starting with four at 7 p.m. (Philadelphia at the New York Islanders, Toronto at Buffalo, Edmonton at the New York Rangers [SN360] and Winnipeg at Washington). Three more follow 30 minutes later (New Jersey at Florida, Boston at Tampa Bay and Vancouver at Ottawa [RDS]), and another pair of contests drop the puck at 8:30 p.m. (St. Louis at Dallas and Colorado at Chicago). 10 p.m. brings with it the beginning of Nashville at Arizona, and the final two games share nightcap responsibilities half an hour later: Pittsburgh at Los Angeles and Calgary at San Jose (SN360). All times eastern.
- Toronto at Buffalo: It’s the first installment of the season in the Battle of the Queen Elizabeth Way!
- St. Louis at Dallas: The Blues and Stars met up last May for seven games, four of which were won by the Notes to send them to the Western Conference Finals.
I’m drawn to both, so we’re just going to assume the answer is in the standings. Since the Atlantic rivals are separated by only a point, we’ll head to KeyBank Center.
The Maple Leafs and Sabres have played 206 times in their history prior to this evening, with Buffalo having a 115-73-18 advantage all-time – an impressive record for a team with no Stanley Cups to their record against a 13-time champion (shh, we don’t need to talk about how none of those titles have come since Buffalo entered the league in 1970).
They’ve met one time in the playoffs. It was the 1999 Eastern Conference Finals, a series the Sabres won handily in five games before falling to Dallas in the Stanley Cup Finals.
But it’s not the past meetings or playoff history that makes this rivalry interesting. It’s how far apart, or really how close, these teams are geographically. Center ice between both teams’ home arenas is less than 90 miles apart, allowing either fan-base to easily commute to the other arena. Expect a lot of Leafs fans in the stands tonight.
Those Leafs enter tonight’s game with a 3-4-3 record. While their offense, led by youngsters Auston Matthews (10 points) and William Nylander (11 points), has certainly been strong, they have been held back by their defense and goaltending.
Frederik Andersen has started eight of Toronto‘s 10 games, but he has only saved 89.1% of the shots he’s faced for 3.46 GAA – not what the Leafs expected when they traded a first round pick to Anaheim for him.
Hosting them this evening will be the 4-3-2 Sabres, a team that has allowed only 21 goals this season – five fewer than the league average.
In six starts, Robin Lehner is the proud owner of a .921 save percentage for a 2.34 GAA. Further improving those numbers is the fact that his defenders are keeping shots off his net. Led by Josh Gorges‘ 20 blocks, Buffalo‘s goaltending has only faced 272 shots, 10 fewer than the league average.
Some players to keep an eye on in tonight’s game include Buffalo‘s Ryan O’Reilly (eight points [leads the team]) and Rasmus Ristolainen (seven assists [leads the team]) & Toronto‘s Matthews (six goals [tied for third-most in the league]) and Nylander (seven assists [tied for sixth-most in the NHL]).
At -120, Vegas favors Buffalo in tonight’s game, as does history: the Sabres have a 70-27-6 record against the Leafs in the Queen City, far superior to their 45-46-12 record in Toronto. I think the Sabres‘ defense is up to the task of beating Toronto‘s youngsters, and their forwards are more than capable of putting some pucks in the back of the net to secure the victory.
Yesterday’s Game of the Day wasn’t a close one, as the Penguins scored their game winner in only 10:24 to eventually win 5-1 over the Ducks.
Three goals were struck in the first period, beginning with Evgeni Malkin‘s (Phil Kessel and Chris Kunitz) slap shot 7:41 after the initial puck drop. 2:43 later, Matt Cullen (Tom Sestito and Eric Fehr) scored a slap shot of his own to give the Penguins a two-goal lead. Anaheim trimmed the differential back to one with 4:11 remaining in the opening frame on the power play when Third Star of the Game Cam Fowler (Sami Vatanen and Ryan Kesler) scored on another slap shot, setting the score at 2-1 going into the dressing room.
Pittsburgh‘s first insurance goal was the lone score of the second period. Bryan Rust (Nick Bonino and First Star Kris Letang) scored his first goal of the season with a backhander with 3:18 remaining in the frame.
The Pens struck quickly to open the final period, as Letang (Justin Schultz) scored a power play goal only 1:27 after resuming play. 5:47 later, Patric Hornqvist (Second Star Sidney Crosby and Carl Hagelin) stuck gold with a wrister to notch the Penguins‘ final tally.
Matt Murray returns in style by saving 32-of-33 (97%) shots faced to earn his first victory of the season, while John Gibson takes the loss after saving 29-of-34 (85.3%). Jonathan Bernier entered the game for the final 8:40, but was not forced to make a save.
Pittsburgh‘s road victory pulls the visitors within four points of the home squads, but the homers still have a 13-8-3 record in the DtFR Game of the Day series.