Game Preview: Center-poor Leafs trudge into Buffalo

Game Preview: Center-poor Leafs trudge into Buffalo

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I’d say at least it can’t get much worse, but I wouldn’t want to tempt fate.

With Nazem Kadri sidelined by suspension, the Leafs find themselves in a position where their best active natural center is a player with one point in 17 games.

We’ll find out if the plan is to shift another winger to the middle (Raymond or Clarkson being the most likely candidates) or to simply call up Trevor Smith as the day progresses. The former scenario would involve calling up a winger, be it Josh Leivo (scored for the Marlies last night in a 3-1 loss) or Spencer Abbott.

The Leafs are struggling heavily with even strength offensive production as of late; while it is the 4-15-1 Sabres, one can’t imagine they will be breaking out in a big way with their top three centers missing for the next three games. It may further emphasize the need to capitalize on powerplays and win the special teams battle. Toronto has won a number of games with good special teams and great goaltending this season, and that may have to be the formula for the team to earn the team a few points before help arrives.

The Leafs have not been able to generate their usual rush opportunities against good defensive competition in recent games. Also hurting that component of their game has been James van Riemsdyk moving  to center ice, where he is not able to take the same advantage of counter attacking opportunities while playing the middle and tracking back deeper into the defensive zone.

The Leafs are lacking in a serious way at a crucial position, but they do still have some scoring talent in the lineup. Some of Kessel, JvR, Raymond, Clarkson and Kulemin will have to find a way to break through as the four have combined for just two points in the last four games (1-2-1), and zero even-strength points. Their center depth may have been obliterated, but these players should be able to find some opportunities against a team that allows more than three goals and 36 shots a game.

For the Sabres, this is their first game under a new head coach in Ted Nolan. Not that Nolan will have this team turned around after two practices, but there’s an infusion of motivation when the responsibility shifts onto the players after a coaching change, and in the early going, at least, it usually translates to some extra jump in the step. Sabres-Leafs games in Buffalo are usually spirited affairs to begin with.

As for the John Scott storyline, besides these anticipated vengeful, bad-blood match ups rarely living up to the hype, Carlyle’s message suggests it’s pretty far from his team’s mind nearly two months later:

“It happened a long time ago. It’s things like that that we don’t like to remember, and we just try to move on from that. We’re here to play a hockey game that’s going to give us the best chance for success, and they’re a hockey club who wants to show their new coach what they’re made of.”

Not to say Colton Orr doesn’t have fighting John Scott in the back of his mind, but when the Leafs are already banged up and suspended, and with two points on the line, it’s hard to imagine Scott being on the forefront of the Leaf thought process or else Carlyle isn’t doing his job.

As a fan, you’re hoping these adverse circumstances can turn into galvanizing character efforts wherein players step up and find ways to win games. Let’s find out what the Leafs can do. Obviously, center problems aside, this is a very beatable Sabres team.

 
Leafs
Sabres
Record11-6-14-15-1
GF/G2.78 (12th)1.65 (30th)
GA/G2.28 (6th)3.15 (27th)
SF/G26.5 (28th)24.8 (30th)
SA/G36.4 (28th)36.9 (29th)
PP22.2% (6th)13.6% (23rd)
PK84.9% (8th)81.2 (20th)
5 on 5 F/A1.12 (9th)0.53 (30th)
Sh%10.5% (4th)6.7% (29th)
Sv%93.7% (2nd)91.5% (14th)
FO%46% (25th)45.4% (26th)

No word yet on who is starting in net for the Leafs, but either way the two goalies will split the back to back.

To mix in a little trade speculation for your Friday – With the Panthers beginning their sale yesterday, thoughts on Shawn Matthias?

Alec Brownscombe is the founder of MapleLeafsHotStove.com, where he has written daily about the Leafs since September of 2008. He was also the editor of the 2009-12 Maple Leafs Annuals. You can contact him at [email protected]
492 comments
M
M

While developing one of the wingers at center might give more line up options, three will likely hurt goal production.  If the call ups are lacking in NHL experience but are otherwise sound defensively, giving them that experience could help deepen that position if injury arises again later during the season.

TheColborneUltimatum
TheColborneUltimatum

I miss Komarov. He really brought a lot of energy to games like these. I really hope he comes back to the nhl

Jordan29
Jordan29

Out of nowhere, i really feel the need to say this.......................WHAT HAPPENED TO THIS BIG REGRESSION THE LEAFS WERE SUPPOSE TO HAVE THIS YEAR? EHHHH? WTF HAPPENED? HEARD IT ALL SUMMER FROM THE MEDIA AND OTHERS SO WHAT UP?

Thank you for your time

The end

rustynail
rustynail

15 games in suspension so far in the regular season for us. Is anybody else close at all?

Luke_R
Luke_R

Lookinbg for Clarkson to do something top 6 worthy ! Cmon buudy doesnt have to be great, but we are paying you 5.25 !

wendelsway1
wendelsway1

One Son just showed up with his bf, the other is working out with a couple friends in our weightroom and Hubby has a couple friends coming over.......apparently all are staying for dinner and the game........good thing I smoked two fatties on the Kamado....here I thought I'd have a sausage one left for breakfast tomorrow......Fuck me.....just never any notice around here.......off to the beer store......have a great night All......GO LEAFS GO!!!

LeafsForLife
LeafsForLife

@TheColborneUltimatum I think hes missed moreso than most people expected him to be missed. Was one of my most favorite players last year. Will be a huge addition next year. Hopefully they will bring him back.

Jordan29
Jordan29

@TheColborneUltimatum He will when the cap goes up next year and we can afford him. Nonis had to pressure Franson into 2 mil, then based on that Komarov should be making 200k

LeafsForLife
LeafsForLife

@rustynail They make more money from the Leafs than all the other teams combined so they can fuck with the Leafs all they want without any fear of losing money. They know it! So the Leafs not winning the Cup is not a loss for them at all. Its so fucked up that the Leafs are the only team in any sport that gets fucked over as much as the Leafs. Its pathetic!

Dan39
Dan39

@lukethenuke Man, anytime you think about that money, you're just going to be disappointed with what we've gotten - that's the nature of these coveted free agent deals... 

Jordan29
Jordan29

@Burtonboy @Jordan29 Damn right we are. We are lucky we are not all scab, turds or other teams fans. GO LEAFS GO 8-0 TONIGHT WWWWOOOOTTTTTTT

Jordan29
Jordan29

@wiski @Jordan29 Fuck no, down to just a 4th line centre and a bunch of labour workers as our centre depth, and well will still pump out a win tonight cause thats how we fuckin roll!

Knights2Leafs
Knights2Leafs

@mike_84

We need to draft him along with his brother.  He can be our designated suspension man.

Dan39
Dan39

@JWaterdrager @Dan39 Heh, yeah, you admire his courage the first time he gets back up, the second and third time you have to question his judgement... Getting tuned and re-tuned like that is no way to rally the troops!

TheColborneUltimatum
TheColborneUltimatum

@GreekGod @Jordan29 @wiski I can't wait until we win the cup so we can rub it in everyone's faces. Leafs fans have had such a bad go the day we win the cup is the day everyone can go fuck themselves.

Dan39
Dan39

@GreekGod @Jordan29 @wiski I hope they send a message by landing a flying knee to Ryan Miller's head if he steps two centimeters outside of his crease. 

GreekGod
GreekGod

@Cameron19 @CanuckUKinToronto @Burtonboy 

Yup. Don't know if anybody noticed but refs have been jumping in on our fights almost the second the gloves have come off the last little bit. I think you are right Cam... NHL is trying to shut down our toughness.