Leafs head down the highway to Buffalo

Contrary to online reports, the Maple Leafs are not ready to welcome Phil Kessel to the lineup on Friday in Buffalo.

Ron Wilson denied the report after the morning skate in Buffalo, saying there is no truth to it. Kessel skated after the team had left, and told the assembled media that “No one has told me I can play any games yet.”

The Leafs will have one new face on the top line as Jiri Tlusty will take Stalberg’s place alongside Matt Stajan and Lee Stempniak.

Goaltender Vesa Toskala was also activated from injured reserve. To make room, forward Stalberg and goalie Joey MacDonald were sent down to the Marlies.

Tlusty, 21, leads the Marlies in goals (6), points (10), powerplay goals (2), and shorthanded goals (1) in eight games this season. The 6-0, 209-pound native of Slany, Czech Republic collected four assists in 14 games with the Leafs during the 2008-09 season, and has 20 career points (10 goals, 10 assists) with 14 penalty minutes in 72 NHL games.

The Sabres, meanwhile, also have some new faces in their lineup this season, most notably rookie defenceman Tyler Mylers. Myers, 19, will play in his 10th NHL game, the point at which his three-year rookie contract kicks in. The Sabres could have sent the 6-foot-8 defenseman back to his junior team in Kelowna.

With Myers’ status cleared up, the Sabres look to continue their strong play and win their sixth straight over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday night.

Buffalo (7-1-1) is coming off a sweep of a three-game road trip, winning the finale 4-1 over New Jersey on Wednesday night. The Sabres return home to face the Maple Leafs (1-7-2) before hitting the road again for a matchup with the New York Islanders.

Though there was some uncertainty, Buffalo will keep one of its steadiest players.

Keeping Myers on the roster will make him eligible to test free agency a year earlier than most players in his draft class.

The 2008 first-round pick has two goals and three assists, and scored a decisive highlight-reel goal in the shootout of a 3-2 win at Tampa on Saturday night.

“He should play here,” Buffalo defenseman Henrik Tallinder said. “I’m really amazed with his poise with the puck. It’s unbelievable for his age, 19. You don’t see veteran guys have that.”

Tallinder compared Myers to another tall defenseman, Boston’s 6-foot-9 Zdeno Chara.

“Not even close. I still don’t think Chara has the same movements as this kid has,” Tallinder said. “It’s scary how good he’s going to be.”

Myers, the rest of the Sabres defense corps and goaltender Ryan Miller have been making it tough for opposing scorers. Buffalo gave up two goals or fewer in each contest during its trip.

Miller made 31 saves versus the Devils and is 7-0-1 with a 1.60 goals-against average on the season.

“We’re happy,” Miller said. “I don’t want to give people the impression we are not happy. We’re managing our expectations a little better. We know it’s going to be a steady improvement by every team. With this team, we also have to improve and show we can bring the work ethic every night.

“The good start shows the guys care and want to play. That will be the key to the season.”

Miller has been in net in every game during Buffalo’s five-game winning streak against Toronto, posting a 1.20 GAA during that span. This will be the teams’ first meeting this season.

Check out Rogers Ultimate Access for a chance to ask your favourite Leafs player a question. If selected, your question and answer will be displayed during a Leafs game.

The Maple Leafs recorded nine goals in their last two games after scoring two times or fewer in their previous six contests. Toronto lost its first eight games before winning 6-3 at Anaheim on Monday night, but fell 4-3 in overtime at Dallas two days later.

“It’s a tough one to take, giving up a late goal, but you learn from that and move forward,” forward Jason Blake said.

Winger Nikolai Kulemin and defenseman Tomas Kaberle were bright spots for Toronto.

Kulemin scored his first two goals of the season after posting 31 points (15 goals, 16 assists) as a rookie in 2008-09. Kaberle had an assist to give him seven points (1 goal, six assists) in his last three games.

Tlusty/Stajan/Stempniak Vanek/Roy/Stafford
Blake/Mitchell/Kulimen MacArthur/Connolly/Pominville
Hagman/Grabovski/Ponikarovsky Hecht/Kennedy/Grier
Orr/Wallin/Primeau Kaleta/Mair/Ellis
Beauchimen/White Butler/Rivet
Kaberle/Komisarek Montador/Paetsch
Exelby/Schenn Tallinder/Myers
Gustavsson (Toskala) Miller (Lalime)
Out: Finger, Mayers. Rosehill, Kessel Gaustad doubtful with flu-like symptoms. Lydman out.