NHL on NBCSN: Sabres, Maple Leafs heating up

Jack Eichel John Tavares
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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Not every player, or every team, can be as hot as Jack Eichel is right now, what with his 16-game point streak.

Instead, both Eichel’s Buffalo Sabres and Tuesday’s opponent, the Toronto Maple Leafs, are aiming to survive before they can thrive. Each team has generated three wins in its last four games, staying on course while navigating bumps in the road.

Perhaps Tuesday’s game will serve as an opportunity for the Sabres or Maple Leafs to really accelerate?

Sabres staying scrappy

Buffalo saw a three-game winning streak end when the Islanders beat them 3-2 in OT on Saturday, but coach Ralph Krueger praised his team for carving out eight points in six games from Dec. 5-14.

“It was a big task in a very short period of time where the guys have shown energy right to the end and really just played a consistent game irrelevant of scores,” Krueger said via the Sabres website. “You can see the maturity of the group is evolving in a way we can take a lot of confidence out of this week.”

Naturally, it doesn’t hurt to get Rasmus Dahlin back. The splendid sophomore generated an assist in each of his first two games back, logging 24:02 time on ice during Saturday’s overtime loss. Eichel believes that Dahlin is already “finding his groove again,” which could be a serious boost for Buffalo, particularly on the power play.

[COVERAGE OF LEAFS-SABRES BEGINS AT 6 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Seeing a young player such as Dahlin make a seemingly triumphant return takes some of the sting off of Casey Mittelstadt’s AHL demotion.

Maple Leafs making gains

Few are going to be blown away by the Maple Leafs’ 7-4-0 record under Sheldon Keefe, but Toronto still shows signs of being a sleeper.

It’s been very much a trial by fire for the first-time NHL head coach. The Maple Leafs were in the middle of a six-game road trip when Keefe stepped in, and Toronto won three games in a row, ending that stretch with a loss in Buffalo.

Overall, the Maple Leafs have only played two out of Keefe’s 11 games at home. With that in mind, it would be tough to knock this group for feeling mightier than their 16-14-4 record might indicate.

In particular, captain John Tavares sees positives in earning three wins during a four-game road trip.

“This (trip) should give us some confidence,” Tavares said via Field Level Media. “It should have been even better, but it is what it is. Now we have to follow it up, turn the page. Heading into the Christmas break, we want to make the most of the games we have.”

The Maple Leafs have shown signs of life by quite a few measures, and the upcoming schedule hints at opportunities to grow. That said, the 16-11-7 Sabres serve as a considerable hurdle, especially when Eichel and Dahlin are on the ice.

Tuesday night’s studio coverage will be hosted by Paul Burmeister alongside analysts Jeremy Roenick and Anson Carter. Kenny Albert and Pierre McGuire will call Sabres-Maple Leafs from Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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