To say that Saturday's game against the Buffalo Sabres is huge for the Leafs isn't hyperbole.
The Leafs have hit a rough patch that many expected despite their hot start and there's no better time for the team to snap out of it than Saturday against the Buffalo Sabres.
The reasons for the tough results lately have been a confluence of hot opposition goaltending, an inability to capitalize on scoring chances and a few poor decisions. Ron Wilson has rightly pointed out that the team has, for the most part, played well though the results simply haven't been there. Unfortunately, well-played losses don't give you points in the standings.
The Buffalo Sabres have played so poorly to start the year that coach-for-life Lindy Ruff may not be... well, coach for life, much longer. A great deal of ink has been spilled lately on the topic of Ruff's potential dismissal after leading his team to a 3-8-1 record to start the year.
Add to this Ryan Miller's 'lower body injury' and it would seem that the Leafs are catching the Sabres at a good time.
The Sabres always seem to give the Leafs a hard time and things aren't exactly rosy for the Buds either. At 3-5-2 in their last ten, the Leafs have been floundering of late and losing Dion Phaneuf for 4-6 weeks wont help.
The third period comeback against the Capitals was a good show of resilience from a team that might have looked fragile in the absence of their Captain. Instead, Wilson was able to rally the team and steal a point from one of the league's best teams.
Our depth on defense is going to be key against the Sabres who roll out a balanced scoring attack. Having six solid defensemen is the exactly the tonic that should neutralize the Sabres' attack. They don't have a superstar but they'll keep coming in waves and will capitalize against teams that aren't as deep on the back end.
Defensively, the Sabres have struggled and Tyler Myers has seen a regression that makes Schenn's sophomore season look like Doughty's. At -12, Myers is a big part of why the Sabres are lingering at the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
Myers isn't the only problem - their blueline is thin in general and it's fair to expect that either the Kessel line or the MacArthur line will have some success against the Sabres five-on-five.
It all looks like a win for the Leafs and it's one that they badly need. It's important that they make a statement that even with Phaneuf out of the lineup, they intend to push to finish in the Eastern Conference's top 8.
As always, you can follow us on Twitter at bcphockeyblog