Toronto - October 28, 2014 -
Who: Toronto Maple Leafs
Where: Air Canada Centre, Toronto, ON
Know thine enemy: It’s been anything but sunshine and roses in Leaf Land this season.
The offense has been struggling through the first eight games, with the Leafs scoring two or fewer goals in half of the team’s games. They’re trying a shakeup tonight, moving David Clarkson to the top line to play with Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk while star winger Phil Kessel slides down to the second line to play with Nazem Kadri and Joffrey Lupul. The more they struggle, the heavier the pressure becomes on the stars of the team.
In net, things haven’t been much better. The team is surrendering 3.12 goals per game, just .10 behind the lowly Sabres. Part of the reason for that has been the struggles of Jonathan Bernier, who has started the year with a 1-3-1 record and sports an ugly 3.38 goals against average to go with his .904 save percentage. James Reimer has been slightly better, going 2-1-0 with a 2.62 goals against and .914 percentage. If things are going to turn around, the Leafs are going to need to be miles better in net, otherwise it won’t matter how much they score.
About the Sabres: Despite a surprising win over the San Jose Sharks on Saturday, things are still far from wonderful in Buffalo. The team is horrific offensively, averaging just 1.11 goals per game. They’re working hard, but there are several factors making offense incredibly difficult for the Sabres.
Defensively, it’s still not much better. They’re still giving up the most shots in the NHL at 36.7 per game and the goaltenders are being forced to be very good to even keep the Sabres in most of these games. Simple logic tells you that when you’re giving up a ton of shots and struggling to generate any offense, things are going to go badly for you.
Despite inflated goals against averages, Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth have been solid for the Sabres this year. Both have goals against averages over 3.00, but they both sport save percentages right around .915. Just watch one or two of these games and you’ll see just how bad things could be without these two in net.
The part where I predict things: Honestly, it’s going to be the same formula in just about every game this season: the Sabres will play somewhat physically, get a few chances here and there, give up a ton of shots and somehow manage to hang just close enough to give you the feeling they could tie it up.
They won’t tie it, though, because this team is well on its way to losing a ton of games this season. Look for the Leafs to get a few early, never looking back from there.
Score: 4-2 Leafs
Follow me on Twitter: @TwoPadStackRW