In his media address after the morning skate ahead of tonight’s home opener, Randy Carlyle made an interesting comment on the Leafs‘ home ice advantage or lackthereof so far during his tenure.
Carlyle: ‘In most markets there’s a comfort zone at home, [last year] we never seemed to develop that, we seemed to be more nervous at home’
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) January 21, 2013
This seems to have a rational explanation. Carlyle joined the team after the players were victim of several consecutive booings/calls for their previous coach’s head. I was unfortunate enough to be at their 3-0 loss to Carolina in late March (where Jussi Rynnas wound up making his first NHL appearance, the game before their 7-1 loss at home to Philly), and Fire Burke chants had reached widespread proportions by that night as well. For a young team, the end of the schedule couldn’t come soon enough after the big collapse and playing at home only seemed to make them tighter and more fearful.
Tonight, the team enters a new season, with Toronto fans even more excited than usual to start a new Leafs season. The team enters 1-0 after a good win over Montreal, so I don’t see the circumstances as the same. Will they give the Leafs a great home atmosphere? That’s another story. Probably not.
As far as the lineup goes, Korbinian Holzer and Mark Fraser both will draw into the lineup in the place of Komisarek and Franson. What that means is the defence is made up of three Marlies graduate hopefuls tonight. Both Fraser and Holzer help transform the Leafs’ D into a physically meaner group of six to combat a more physical group of Sabres forwards, including Marcus Foligno, John Scott and Steve Ott.
James Mirtle sounds unsure as to whether or not Dave Steckel draws into the lineup tonight, but the Leafs could certainly use some help in the faceoff department based on last game’s numbers (lost 64% of draws). Given they’ve added an able fighter in Fraser who will be taking a regular shift, they could stick Steckel on the fourth line wing in Orr’s place, have him go out for defensive zone faceoffs and then dart to the bench after the breakout. This might be an especially useful tactic for the third line given Kadri‘s poor performance on the dot. Other than that, Carlyle will stick with the top nine he put out Saturday.
The Buffalo Sabres will be playing their second game in as many days, and hopefully that provides an advantage this early in the season after a big layoff and a short camp. They did look good against the Flyers, and when Thomas Vanek is hot he is an absolute nightmare to deal with (he put up five points yesterday). Expect the Grabovski line to take the brunt of the matchup with the Vanek, Pominville and Hodgson line.
Every divisional battle is important, especially so in a truncated season. Go Leafs.
Toss your prediction for the score and game winning goal scorer in the comments.