Tonight the rival from just down the QEW, the Toronto Maple Leafs invade the First Niagara Center. Along with them they bring fromer long time Sabre Tim Connolly. The Leafs sit 6th in the East with 35 points and the Sabres are barely hanging onto 8th with 33 points. The disaster of a 5 game homestand wraps up tonight for the blue and gold (1-1-2). This is the first meeting between of six between these teams and will have more punch to the season series than its had in past seasons. Both of these teams will be fighting for playoff position and will take great pleasure in making it harder on the opposing rival.
Tim Connolly comes in tonight with 15 points in 18 games for the leafs (6g 9a) and is rebounding from a disaster start in Toronto. Connolly has always had wizard hands and has been a excellent special teams player. The problem will be to see how long Connolly can stay healthy. Every time he falls or is hit or blocks a shot as a fan you hold your breath. I was more of a Connolly supporter than others in Buffalo. I think he has the talent to be a top player in this league, but injuries have just riddled his career. Had Peter Schaefer not knocked him out in the 05-06 Ottawa playoff series the Sabres would have a Stanley Cup banner hanging from the rafters. I will be interested tonight to see how Timmy plays and how the Sabres faithful treat him in his return (I anticipate a lot of boo's).
Tonight will be a 50/50 split at least in Leafs and Sabres fans in the FN Center. These games are always very loud and full of energy. This could be just the team the Sabres need to get them going. They have dominated the Leafs until the end of last season when Toronto won the last 3 meetings. Ryan Miller has owned the Leafs throughout his career 24-8-0 2.18 GAA and 4 shutouts. Once again the key for Buffalo will be getting the fast start and if they do hold the lead. They cannot panic if one thing goes wrong. They have to get on the Leafs D and bring a strong forecheck. They say they know what they have to do so lets see it for once.
On the injury front the news is kind of getting better. Tyler Myers is skating on his own and starting to stick handle a little, he is looking for a return after the Christmas break, this team needs him back badly. Brad Boyes rejoined the team in the morning skate wearing a red "non-contact" jersey, but still a good sign he could be about a week away from his ankle injury. Patrick Kaleta was again supposed to return to the lineup tonight, but that now seems unlikely. Ruff said Kaleta "wasn't feeling well" this morning and is unkown if it's an illness or his groin injury. Hecht is still a ways away and Tropp couldn't tell you, same with Gerbe. Leino is the newest member to the injury list and Ruff said he was going to be out "weeks" with a lower body injury.
Tonight I'll again be watching the Roy, Stafford, Ennis line. They need to show up for 60 minutes. I think if this team does not turn around Roy may need to be moved. Stafford had a career year without him, Vanek matured, and this team went on a tear last year once he went out. That is something I will be watching closely the next few weeks. Roy should get the Sabres a good return as a potential 70 point player annually and a low cap hit of 4.5 million.
(Enroth, curious to see if he starts tomorrown in Pittsburgh after a rough outing last week)
Prediction: Sabres 3-1 Millers domination of the Leafs continues tonight.
A little add on here that I just saw Joffrey Lupul tweeting "Is there any windowless rooms? #buffalo" with a picture from the embassy suites of Delaware Ave. Buffalo citizens don't take well to people insulting their city. Also he might have made a mistake giving a struggling team material to motivate themselves with. We will see how this unfolds tonight.