It’s a quick turnaround for the Toronto Maple Leafs, as they play the home leg of their preseason series against the Buffalo Sabres tonight. Jonathan Bernier will get the start anyway for the Leafs tonight, and Joffrey Lupul is expected to make his preseason debut. Here’s the primer for tonight.
– The Buds won last night’s contest against the Sabres 3 – 2 after a protracted shootout. All things considered, the Leafs were lucky to eke out a win in the First Niagara Center last night. Their play was sloppy, and they were heavily outshot. But a gutsy third period saw the Leafs force their way back into the game as Jay McClement tied the game at twos with less than five minutes left in the third. The Leafs had some primo chances in OT, but failed to capitalize. After 29 shooters failed to get the job done in the skills competition, McClement tallied the winner because he finishes pretty much everything he starts.
– As of this writing, the forward lines for tonight’s game haven’t been released by the Leafs, but whatever they are, don’t get used to them. Tonight will probably be the last game a lot of the bubble players will play for the Leafs this preseason. After tonight, the Leafs will have three preseason games between Tuesday and Saturday. They’ve got tomorrow off, so expect axes to fall sometime midday.
– Should Carter Ashton or David Broll be in the lineup tonight, expect them to leave it all on the ice. Given the uncertain injury situation with some of the Leafs bottom six players, either guy could still snag a spot. Both provide a lot of physicality and energy and also bring more offensive upside than either the maimed Frazer McLaren or the lamed Colton Orr. I’m rooting for either or both of them.
– It’ll be great to see Bernier between the pipes tonight, and even better if he takes in the full 60 minutes. The Leafs made a fairly large investment in Bernier this offseason, and after a false start in his first preseason game, he’s left fans anxious. A good game tonight will go a long way to allaying concerns.
– For his sake, I hope he faces less rubber than James Reimer did last night. I know it’s only preseason and it’s an incomplete picture on the ice, but 40 shots is a hell of a lot any time of year. That’s a trend I’d like to see the Leafs shake heading into this season, so we’ll see what tonight brings.
– Perhaps to mitigate the shot count, the Leafs seem likely to ice a very different blueline tonight. Out are Gunnarsson, Fraser, Percy, Ranger and Phaneuf while Rielly, MacWilliam, Liles, Brennan and Holzer are expected to figure into the lineup. The only holdover from last night is Jake Gardiner.
– If we can expect the coaching staff to pare down their roster to something closer to the real lineup for the final 3 games next week, this is an important game for some of these bubble defencemen.
– Joffrey Lupul is expected to play to tonight, and may be on a line with Nazem Kadri and David Clarkson. That is already most people’s projected second line, so it’ll be really intriguing to see how well they mesh tonight. While he may never live up to his contract, Clarkson should bring some snarl and puck retrieval skills with him to that line, freeing both Lupul and Kadri up to work their magic.
– Sure, the games are pretty much meaningless, but hell, let’s see the Leafs pull out a W tonight. Enjoy the game, ladies and gents.
Maple Leafs Pre-Season LinesMaple Leafs Pre-Season Lines vs. Buffalo Sabres