TORONTO - There is bad news for Buffalo on the goalie front and good news in Bad Tolz if you’re following a certain Maple Leaf defenceman.
Each club will be making a lineup change for Saturday’s Hockey Hall of Fame Game, the most significant move coming in the Sabres’ crease. Ryan (Leaf Killer) Miller is going to sit another game with a lower body injury, scuttling a chance to extend his domination over Toronto and get his team out of an autumn funk. Miller is 22-8 against the Leafs, including 5-1 last season, the most against any of his NHL opponents.
The home side is leaning towards using Marlie call-up Korbinian Holzer, a 6-foot-3 late bloomer and holdover from the John Ferguson era. Summoned from the farm on Wednesday just after the Marlies had landed in San Antonio, Tex., for a long road trip, the German hopped a plane back to Washington, but was too jet-lagged to play even if the Leafs wanted. He’ll go in for either Brett Lebda or Carl Gunnarsson against the Sabres as the patch job for injured Dion Phaneuf continues.
Back in Bad Tolz, a spa town near Munich, Albert and Ilse Holzer will be staying up through the night to watch the game streamed via the internet. One can only wonder what they’ll think of Don Cherry and how he might mangle their boy’s name if he gets in and does something notable.
“I hope I get the opportunity,” said Holzer, who has been given jersey No. 55, last worn by rambunctious defenceman Danny Markov was here. “My parents watched the game against Washington because I told them I was going there, but I couldn’t let them know I wasn’t playing. My mother watched that whole game.”
But this is serious business for two teams who bring four-game losing streaks into the Air Canada Centre. Toronto has frittered away its fast 4-0 start and though it gained a huge point in Washington with Wednesday’s shootout point, the Sabres won’t be caught napping.
“Just because they don’t have Miller doesn’t mean we’re expecting an easy two points,” defenceman Mike Komisarek warned. “We just want to get back in that win column at home. We’re working hard to get pucks on the net and get bodies in front, being more creative offensively.
“They play a very solid team game, a good system and they have some offensive guys who can hurt you.”
Patrick Lalime or young Jhonas Enroth will face the Leafs and Jean-Sebastien Giguere. But neither Sabre has Miller’s Vezina credentials.
“I’m still trying to figure him out myself,” joked ex-Sabre Clarke MacArthur. “There were so many games here (when MacArthur was a Sabre) where it could’ve been 10 in a row for Toronto. We’d leave here having won the game, but wow, Toronto had about 50 shots. We’re 1-1 against (Buffalo) in pre-season and we have to build on that.”
Toronto has seven goals in the past five ACC games, but in a show of faith, coach Ron Wilson restored the first line of Tyler Bozak, Kris Versteeg and Phil Kessel at the end of the Caps’ game and for Friday’s practice. He’ll need another big night from a third line that featured Mike Brown, John Mitchell and Fredrik Sjostrom.
“They got the game turned around,” Wilson said. “Every one of their shifts was good. Brownie had an unbelievable night, with seven shots on goal. It’s funny, he can’t score shooting it, but (his first of the year) goes off of his rear end.”
Wilson pounced on the first question about the long leash he’s given Mikhail Grabovski, who is scoreless in 12 games this year and through 20 dating back to last season.
“Isn’t he our best plus-minus guy?,” Wilson said of the plus seven., “Tell me what’s wrong with Grabbo that he should be frustrated when he’s on the ice for a lot more goals than what he’s given up. He’s a good two-way player, he is setting up his linemates and that’s all that matters to me.”
But Grabovski, in tandem with Nikolai Kulemin and MacArthur, had better get it turned around soon. Or he’ll be the next lineup question mark.