Maple Leafs 2022-23 Divisional Preview: Buffalo Sabres

Cross border rivals, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres have had some good battles over the years. From the Dominik Hasek days to the Ryan Miller and Jonathan Bernier battle to the John Scott and Phil Kessel shenanigans these two teams can be electric when they face-off in the Battle of the QEW.

Buffalo Sabres Toronto Maple Leafs 2022/23 Divisional Preview
Buffalo Sabres Toronto Maple Leafs (The Hockey Writers)

While the Sabres have had their struggles in recent seasons without playoff hockey since 2010-11 and losing out on their supposed saviour in Jack Eichel, they’ve never just laid down and let the Maple Leafs walk over them as has been evident in recent years. In fact, when the Sabres show up on the Maple Leafs schedule, it’s often a tougher test for the blue and white than other sub-.500 teams around the league.

Maple Leafs, Sabres Historically Speaking

For years, the Sabres have instilled fear into Leafs Nation. For good reason, too, if you’re looking at the matchup from a historical stand point. These two teams have faced off 222 times during the regular season with the Sabres carrying a significant edge. Over that span, the Maple Leafs are 84-109-18-11 while being outscored 628 to 792.

While the Sabres have doubled the Maple Leafs win total in Buffalo, the Maple Leafs actually have a winning record when the two meet in Toronto, something to consider as the two will meet for a couple meetings at Scotiabank Arena this season.

Related: Maple Leafs 2022-23 Divisional Preview – Boston Bruins

From a playoff standpoint, the Maple Leafs and Sabres have met just once back in 1999 in the Conference Finals. As you’d guess, the Sabres rolled over the Maple Leafs in five games, outscoring them 21-16 — a testament to what the Sabres are able to do when these teams are on the ice together.

Looking Back on the Maple Leafs and Sabres in 2021-22

The 2021-22 season was par for the course between these two clubs, including a big Sabres’ win at Tim Horton’s Field in Hamilton at the NHL’s Heritage Classic. The two clubs met four times in total with the Maple Leafs coming out on — you guessed it — the losing end. They finished 1-3-0 against the Sabres in 2021-22 and outscored 19-10.

They couldn’t muster anything on the powerplay with just a 10 percent success rate in those four games, while their goaltenders had a combined .847 save percentage. It’s worth noting that after the Maple Leafs took the first contest between these two, the Sabres went on to win three straight, with scores of 5-1, 5-2 and 5-2, collecting 15 goals over the last three meetings.

In fact, the only goalie to get a win against the Sabres for the Maple Leafs last season was Joseph Woll, stopping 23 of 27 shots.

Jeff Skinner Buffalo Sabres
Jeff Skinner, Buffalo Sabres (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

As for the top players on each side, Alex Kerfoot was maybe the best Maple Leaf in last year’s season series, while Jeff Skinner dominated the Maple Leafs in his bounce back campaign — scoring four goals and six points in his four games.

While the Sabres once again missed the playoffs as the fifth seed in the Atlantic Division, those six points that the Maple Leafs lost to the Sabres last season could’ve played a part in the Maple Leafs landing the Tampa Bay Lightning in round one and ultimately another first-round exit for the blue and white. Needless to say, the Sabres were once again a thorn in the side of the Maple Leafs.

Sabres Land Lyubushkin From Maple Leafs

While the Maple Leafs completely revamped their goaltending in the offseason, the Sabres didn’t do much and that might be best for them as they closed out the 2021-22 season on a high note. Their blue line and goaltending is still somewhat questionable as they enter the season with Craig Anderson in the start role. That said, the Sabres did bring in a new face and former Maple Leaf Ilya Lyubushkin on the back end.

The heavy hitting, stay-at-home defenceman, Lyubushkin’s stint in Toronto was a short one, but he made an impression with some hard hits and strong play in his end to close out the season. While the Maple Leafs didn’t have room to bring him back, the Sabres were able to pick him up to add depth on their blue line that could also feature former first overall pick Owen Power as well this season.

Ilya Lyubushkin Arizona Coyotes
Ilya Lyubushkin, Arizona Coyotes (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

On top of that, the Maple Leafs added Jordie Benn and Victor Mete as depth options on their back end with the hope that Timothy Liljegren will be a mainstay in their lineup this season.

As for their new goaltending duo, the two have combined for a 7-1-1 record in 10 career games against the Sabres and while Ilya Samsonov’s numbers overall aren’t anything to write home about, Murray’s overall numbers are decent with a 2.82 goals against average and .915 save percentage over his career against Buffalo.

Overall, neither team made major upgrades this offseason and will come into their contests looking fairly similar to last season.

Maple Leafs Should Bounce Back Against Sabres in 2022-23

Could this coming season be the one where the Maple Leafs change the narrative of this head-to-head matchup? Surely looking at the teams, the expectation would be that the Maple Leafs come out on top, but that hasn’t always been the case.

Last season, the Sabres played the Maple Leafs’ star players tight — to the point that Rasmus Dahlin got into Auston Matthews’ head at the Heritage Classic and forced him to retaliate landing Matthews a two-game suspension in the process. If the Maple Leafs can keep their heads about them and find ways to beat the veteran goaltender, this could be another season series that they could capitalize on for points in the Atlantic Division standings.

Related: Ranking the Atlantic Division’s Goaltending Duos

The Sabres have taken strides to better their team overall and have some incredible depth in their pipeline, but they aren’t ready to join the top-end teams in the division just yet. Still the Maple Leafs can’t take them lightly. They’ve shown in the past just how dominant they can be in this head-to-head matchup and it seems the Maple Leafs tend to play down to the Sabres.

Well, it’s gut check time for the Maple Leafs. This year, the Sabres will be better and even more in their face each and every game they play against one another. It’ll come down to whether or not the Maple Leafs want another season with a losing record against the Sabres, but on paper the Maple Leafs should come out on top.

As for where these teams will finish in the Atlantic Division, it’ll be pretty close to this season. The Maple Leafs will be a top-three team, while the Sabres will take a step in the right direction, but will likely still come up just shy of making playoffs.

Meetings This Season

November 19, 2022 – Buffalo at Toronto – 7 p.m.

February 21, 2023 – Toronto at Buffalo – 7:30 p.m.

March 13, 2023 – Buffalo at Toronto – 7:30 p.m.