Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Sports: NHL Hockey: For both cellar dwellers the outlook is grim

Grim outlook, but one of these teams has to win, correct?

Sportikos, refWrite Backpage sports newspotter, analyst, columnist

Leafs on the road in Buffalo tonite

Tuesday, 29.01.2013 / 10:01 AM / News

MAPLE LEAFS Toronto (2-3-0) at SABRES Buffalo (2-3-0)


Season series: Despite it being early in the season, this is the second meeting between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Buffalo Sabres. Buffalo went into the Air Canada Centre for its second game of the season on Jan. 21 and left with a 2-1 win.

Big story: With both Toronto and Buffalo coming off tough road losses, the game Tuesday night is a big opportunity to build some positive momentum and climb out of the place both teams are currently sitting -- the Northeast Division cellar.

Team Scope:

Maple Leafs: In their last game the Maple Leafs appeared headed to a second impressive win in three games after taking a 2-0 first-period lead against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. After the opening 20 minutes, however, things stalled out significantly for Toronto. The Leafs managed just 17 shots on goal over the course of the entire game while giving up 42 shots on net and they were eventually victims of a Rangers comeback that was punctuated by a four-goal third period. That the loss came on the heels of 7-4 loss at home against the New York Islanders made the blown lead a tough pill to swallow, particularly considering that just three nights before their loss to the Rangers, the Maple Leafs had spoiled the Pittsburgh Penguins' home opener with a stunning 5-2 victory.

The loss to the Rangers was a particularly rough night for netminder James Reimer, who had an opportunity to grab the reins of Toronto's unsettled goalie situation after Ben Scrivens was pulled from the loss to the Islanders two nights earlier. If the Maple Leafs can manage to get solid play on the back end, however, they could wind up surprisingly opponents. With 11 goals in the last three games, it would appear the offense is not the problem.

Sabres: Buffalo might have been among the most impressive teams in the League in its season opener. On the strength of Thomas Vanek's five-point outburst, the Sabres trounced the Flyers 5-2 for a statement victory and knocked off the Maple Leafs in Toronto a day later to open 2012-13 at 2-0-0. Since then, however, the Sabres have hit the skids. Not only has Vanek missed time due to a muscle strain, but the team is now mired in a three-game losing streak after getting swept in a home-and-home against the Carolina Hurricanes and suffering a 3-2 loss to the previously-winless Washington Capitals this past Sunday.

Perhaps more forboding is the Sabres' lackluster offense of late. Since its season-opening win over Philadelphia, Buffalo has averaged just two goals per game while surrendering an average of 2.50 goals per game over the same stretch. If the Sabres' don't turn it around soon, things could be get out of hand very quickly. Buffalo doesn't have more than one day off at a time until Feb. 13 and 14, meaning there is little time for the players to catch their breath if the team starts to slide.

Who's hot: The Sabres' loss to the Capitals Sunday was the first time this season Jason Pominville failed to register a point, but he is still off to a strong start with three goals and five assists through five games this season. ...Mikhail Grabovski has scored a goal in each of the last three games for Toronto and added two assists over that span for good measure, while Nazem Kadri has quietly put up five points in five games this season.

Injury report: Thomas Vanek (lower-body injury) is considered probable for Buffalo Tuesday. The Maple Leafs, who recently lost Joffrey Lupul for six weeks with a broken forearm, may also be without Clarke MacArthur (lacerated finger), who is considered questionable.

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