Sabres will be handful for lowly Leafs

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:19 PM ET

If the Maple Leafs are to avoid a three-game losing streak, they will have to get past a team that has beaten them 10 of 11 times in two years — a team which is poised to clinch its division and boasts the potential Vezina and Calder Trophy winners.

In other words, the Buffalo Sabres are solid favourites Thursday night at the Air Canada Centre.

About all Toronto players can point to is the fact that the previous time the seemingly unbeatable Ryan Miller tended net in Canada he was the loser in the Olympic gold medal game against Sidney Crosby and Team Canada.

Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson was behind the Team USA bench that night and Sabres coach Lindy Ruff was helping out for Canada, but both have said in the past they can offer little insight on getting under Miller's skin.

"Maybe shoot before he's ready?" Wilson said in jest. "Is there anything specific? Not really. Almost every goalie plays the same way. They're all butterfly goalies who tend to give up rebounds, so you have to be prepared around the net, because Ryan's second effort on any mistakes he makes is phenomenal.

"That's probably where he has improved the most in the past year. He knows when he has made a mistake and he reacts to it. He's a big body goalie, too. He looks a lot bigger than he is — it's unbelievable really, how little room you have."

Ruff gave Miller Thursday morning off after he stopped 13 of 15 Florida Panthers shots in a 6-2 win Wednesday night that bumped him to 39 victories on the season.

He enters the game leading the NHL with a .929 save percentage. The Sabres have some injury woes with forwards Thomas Vanek, Tim Connolly and Patrick Kaleta expected to be out, but Toronto will also have its hand full trying to get to the net with 6-foot-8 defenceman Tyler Myers blocking the road.

Myers, Colorado forward Matt Duchene and Islanders forward John Tavares are front-runners for rookie of the year.

"That kind of talk, I try to put it out of my mind," Myers said. "You hear it every other day, but I try to not think about that until after the season's done and the playoffs are over. At the same time it's very exciting."

Duchene and Tavares have 20-plus goals, but voting writers also appreciate how hard it is for a defenceman to break in to the NHL.

"I knew it would be tough making the jump from junior," said Myers, a Kelowna junior teammate of Toronto defenceman Luke Schenn, who came up to the NHL a year earlier. "The guys are stronger and a lot faster. It was definitely an adjustment, but the guys in the room have made it very comfortable for me."

The Leafs have made a couple of lineup changes, giving new college signing Brayden Irwin his first NHL start, with the 23-year-old possibly returning to finish classes at the University of Vermont next week. Irwin is from Toronto, which meant a mad scramble for tickets on Thursday.

He needed tickets for his parents, brother and sister, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles, Irwin said. "It's (expensive), but you know it's worth it. It will be a good crowd."

Wayne Primeau, Jamie Lundmark and defenceman Jeff Finger are the Leafs' likely healthy scratches.

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TONIGHT'S LINEUPS

TORONTO

Goal

Jean-Sebastien Giguere
Jonas Gustavsson


Forwards

Nikolai Kulemin -Mikhail Grabovski -Phill Kessel

Christian Hanson-Tyler Bozak- Viktor Stalberg

John Mitchell-Brayden Irwin-Luca Caputi

Fredrik Sjostrom-Rickard Wallin-Colton Orr


Defence

Luke Schenn -Tomas Kaberle

Dion Phaneuf-Francois Beauchemin

Garnet Exelby-Carl Gunnarsson

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BUFFALO SABRES

Goal

Ryan Miller
Patrick Lalime


Forwards

Tim Kennedy - Derek Roy-Drew Stafford

Tyler Ennis-Jochen Hecht-Jason Pominville

Nathan Gerbe -Paul Gaustad-ike Grier

Matt Ellis-Adam Mair-Raffi Torres


Defence

Tyler Myers-Henrik Tallinder

Craig Rivet-Steve Montador

Toni Lydman-Andrej Sekera


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