The shoe is on the other hoof for tonight’s Leafs-Sabres rematch at the ACC as the Leafs are putting just about their best foot forward and the Sabres are sitting much of their core group. The Leafs will dress their complete top six on the back end, with Kaberle-Komisarek, Phaneuf-Gunnarsson, and Beauchemin-Schenn making up the pairings. Jonas Gustavsson will go the distance in net and a near-complete four lines (with one question mark remaining at the third line centre position) will dress up front. The full line-ups and a few notes are after the jump.
-Buffalo’s Ryan Miller, Thomas Vanek, Tyler Myers, Tim Connolly, Shaone Morrisonn and Rob Niedermayer will all sit tonight.
-A top line of Phil Kessel-Tyler Bozak-Kris Versteeg is well and great but it will be interesting to see if Nik Kulemin-Mikhail Grabovski-Clarke McArthur as well as the likes of Caputi and Armstrong in the bottom six can produce enough consistent supplemental offense to be able to keep this configuration intact going forward. Ideally such a threatening, go-top line can continue into the regular season but you have to wonder if there is enough strength in depth in the supporting cast to allow these three to stay together. If Burke can locate a solution for the third line center situation or if Kadri can come on strong late in the preseason it would go a long way in this regard.
-Tim Brent for his part gets the chance tonight to make his case as a capable bottom six NHLer in the Burke mould. More than likely, he’ll spend the majority of the season captaining the Marlies but a strong performance could assure himself a place atop the call-up list in the case of injury.
-Tomas Kaberle played a 27.5% frequency (per Dobber Hockey.com) with Mike Komisarek last year in even strength situations before Komisarek got hurt, and perhaps it wasn’t a coincidence that Kaberle put up the majority of his points in the first 30 games of last season. It seems like having Kaberle’s puckhandling ability relieve Komisarek of those duties (he is usually leading or close to leading the league in giveaways) is a good idea, but you have to worry if it was Kaberle’s defensive inabilities that had Komisarek scrambling last year, taking penalties and posting a -9 in 34 games.
-One ugly theme that has carried over from last season into this preseason is the Leafs‘ conceding of the first goal of the game. The Leafs proved in ’09-10 to be slow off the start and terrible at making comebacks, with a sub .200 record in games they trail first. This is something that has to sort itself out in the preseason and good habits must be implemented to make sure this team starts games quicker than last season.
-A note on the Andrew Crescenzi contract, the 18-year-old, 6’4″ Kitchener Rangers center the Leafs recently signed to an entry level contract. There was some confusion as to when NHL teams can sign undrafted but still draft-eligible players to pro contracts. Undrafted players that are signed to Amateur Tryout Contracts are eligible to be signed to a pro contract until one day before the NHL regular season begins, Brian Burke told me in a recent email conversation.
The full lineups via TSN:
Versteeg – Bozak – Kessel
Kulemin – Grabovski – MacArthur
Caputi – Brent – Armstrong
Brown – Hanson – Orr
Kaberle – Komisarek
Phaneuf – Gunnarsson
Beauchemin – Schenn
Gerbe – Ellis – Grier
Stafford – Roy – Mancari
Hecht – Gaustad – McCormick
Ennis – Byron – Kassian
Butler – Persson
Leopold – Montador
Weber – Sekera