The Battle of the QEW will begin anew Friday, as the Buffalo Sabres host the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Northeast Division rivals first meeting of the season.
The Sabres (7-1-1) enter the contest as one of the NHL’s hottest teams, having won three straight and sit first in the Northeast Division.
“We’re happy,” goalie Ryan Miller said. “I don’t want to give people the impression we are not happy. We’re managing our expectations a little better.
“We know it’s going to be a steady improvement by every team.”
Toronto (1-7-2) is 1-1-1 on its current five-game stint away from the Air Canada Centre.
While on the road, the Leafs have been led offensively by Niklas Hagman, who potted a hat trick on Monday versus Anaheim, and Nikolai Kulemin, who notched his first two goals of the season Wednesday against Dallas.
Despite finally getting some offence on this trip, Toronto will be in tough against Buffalo, the best defensive team in the league, with only 1.89 goals against per game.
They’ve allowed just 17 tallies this season thanks in large part to Miller, whose 9.44 save percentage and 1.60 goals-against average lead all netminders.
Even worse news for Toronto is the fact that Miller seems to have the Leafs number. He has won five straight against Toronto and has a 1.20 goals-against average over those games.
Another member of Buffalo’s staunch defence is rookie Tyler Myers, who will play his 10th NHL game Friday, causing his three-year entry level contract to kick in.
The 19-year-old defenceman has two goals and three assists so far this year. Myers is 6-foot-8 and was drafted 12th overall by Buffalo in the 2008 NHL entry draft.
“He should play here,” Sabres blueliner Henrik Tallinder said. “I’m really amazed with his poise with the puck. It’s unbelievable for his age. You don’t see veteran guys have that.”
Meanwhile, the Leafs are still trying to work their way out of the NHL’s basement, where they sit with the lowest point total and have been torched for 42 goals-against in only 10 games.
The team is hoping that will change with the return of Jonas Gustavsson on Monday and the news that Vesa Toskala has been activated off of injured reserve and will likely dress as a back-up Friday.
Toronto has also called up Jiri Tlusty from the Marlies, in favour of Viktor Stalberg, who only had one point in eight contests. Tlusty leads the AHL squad with six goals and 10 points.
Buffalo’s offence has been run by committee, as 18 different players have made their way onto score sheets, this season. Four players are tied with seven points, the team lead.
The Leafs will be without Phil Kessel (shoulder), but he could return as early as Tuesday versus Tampa Bay. The Sabres are missing Toni Lydman (groin) and Andrej Sekera (ribs).