BUFFALO - There was scoring to be had across the border during the daylight hours of Black Friday, but what about at night?
The Leafs make their first of three annual trips down the QEW to face their division-rival Sabres as a pair of goal-starved teams look to break out.
The Leafs scoring struggles, although they have eased some the past week, are well documented. Toronto has scored two goals or less in half of their 20 games and with a 2.35 goals per game average are tied for 26th in the league.
The Sabres, meanwhile, have scored two goals or less in 10 of their past 23 contests and rank only slightly better at 24th with a 2.44 average.
It’s not likely to get much easier for the Leafs, who seem to have met an inordinate share of hot goaltenders this season. Ryan Miller, on the shelf the past two games while nursing a minor groin injury, will return to the Sabres net.
“Hopefully it’s at the point that I can maintain and actually make some strides and be in great shape the rest of the season,” Miller said following the Sabres gameday skate.
Miller, who missed five games earlier this year and hasn’t had the chance to return to his Vezina Trophy winning form, has been a Leafs killer in the past, including a 5-1 run last season and a 22-8 mark overall.
“Just want to win hockey games and they are a divisional rival and I see a lot of them so that’s the case there,” Miller said when asked about his record against the Leafs. “They have a good team with high energy and they push the puck and push the pace.
“We’re looking at a different team than we saw last year.”
Leafs coach Ron Wilson says Miller has the potent mix of athletic ability and hockey intellect.
“He’s a big tall guy who does a great job covering the lower half of the net,” Wilson said. “And like with all great goaltenders, his concentration level is unbelievable.
“In traffic, he finds pucks and he’s cerebral too. In traffic, he thinks the game. He knows the other teams pretty well, studies the shooters. Every game you’ve scored on him, you’ve earned it.”
So how to solve him?
“I have no idea,” Wilson said. “If I had the answer, we’d score a lot more goals.”
With an 8-12-3 start, the Sabres could certainly use a boost from Miller. Buffalo is currently tied with the Leafs with 19 points but Toronto has three games in hand.
One small lineup change for the Leafs — forward Luca Caputi comes in for Mike Brown (groin). Caputi was went down to the Marlies for one game earlier this week to get some game action.
Ruff on the strong start by Leafs forward Clarke MacArthur, a former Sabre. “I’m not surprised. He’s kind of at the hump of his career and he looks determined to make a difference ... MacArthur on his return: “I want to play hard every night but you always want to play well against your old team,” MacArthur said. “I’d love to score on (Miller). I think I scored on him about three times in three years of practice.” .... Sabres captain Craig Rivet is expected to be a healthy scratch again on Friday night ... The Sabres lead the NHL in goals by defencemen (14) goals. Not bad when you consider the team has only 56 in total ...