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Preview: Leafs can’t put it off any longer and are headed to Buffalo

Who are these guys on the Sabres anyway?

2017 NHL Draft - Round One
Life is tough when your best player isn’t on the ice.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Toronto Maple Leafs vs Buffalo Sabres: Game # 68

Time: 7:30

Location: Wrong side of the lake

Broadcast/Streaming: TSN4, NBCSN

Opponent SBNation Site: Die by the Blade

It seems like every game preview is a cautionary tale not to take the opposition too lightly this season. This one is. We are now into the weirdest part of the NHL season, and teams you’d think should be tanking aren’t, and teams you’d think should be playing at peak ability, like whoever that was playing the Capitals on the weekend, aren’t.

To face the Sabres, the Leafs have shuffled the lines in a way that makes sense given the way they’ve played since the trade deadline and the strength of the opposition. To that end, William Nylander gets another go at being a centre, and this weird patch of games with Auston Matthews out is the perfect time to have him work on this.

Playing wing with Tyler Bozak should give Kasperi Kapanen some lessons in shooting occasionally. Bozak’s got the passing play mastered at a level Kapanen won’t reach, so he better shoot it.

This is all good.

Toronto Maple Leafs

From Sunday’s practice

Forward Lines

Zach Hyman - William Nylander - Connor Brown
Patrick Marleau - Nazem Kadri - Mitch Marner
James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - Kasperi Kapanen
Dominic Moore - Tomas Plekanec - Leo Komarov

Defence Pairings

Morgan Rielly - Ron Hainsey
Jake Gardiner - Nikita Zaitsev
Travis Dermott - Connor Carrick

Goaltenders

Frederik Andersen
Curtis McElhinney

Buffalo Sabres

A mix of Leftwinglock, which gives real usage and Daily Faceoff, which gives the on-paper lineup

Forward Lines

Benoit Pouliot - Ryan O’Reilly - Sam Reinhart
Scott Wilson - Johan Larsson - Jason Pominville
Nick Baptiste - Zemgus Girgensons - Kyle Okposo
Jordan Nolan - Jacob Josefson - Seth Griffith

Defence Pairings

Marco Scandella - Rasmus Ristolainen
Viktor Antipin - Casey Nelson
Nate Beaulieu - Justin Falk

Goaltenders

Robin Lehner
Chad Johsnon - Confirmed starter


Late update on the lines. Not sure it changes the point of what follows, perhaps merely drives it home.

Now about these guys claiming to be the Sabres. Who are these guys, exactly? I took the actual usage from their last game, a loss to the Panthers, and I mixed it up with their listed lines to get a look at who the coach actually puts out on the ice most. The defence pairs went through heavy rotation last game, and while Ristolainen played most, he did it with guys not named Scnadella most of the time. I can only imagine Phil Housley is ever in search of a pairing that works.

The Sabres defence corps is a disaster. An epic disaster. Which isn’t new, and yet this is the group that the current team put together on purpose to win games with.

Up front, with their best player not playing, the team is a series of faded hopes from the 1C in Ryan O’Reilly who thought he was going to lead this team to glory while getting rich, through players like Kyle Okposo and Jason Pominville, who used to be good, right down to Seth Griffith, called up to hold tenuously to a fourth line wing job. The only guy out there who might be happy with his lot in life is Jordan Nolan.

Here’s a joke: The Sabres four centres collectively cost $11.275 million while the Leafs are $12.59 plus $3 million on the Habs’ payroll. The Sabres don’t have anyone on an ELC is the punchline. Or maybe it’s that O’Reilly accounts for two thirds of it. Either way it’s RoR and some guys from beer league down the middle.

Here’s a better one: The Sabres are paying their top six defenders $22.44 million, except two of them aren’t on the roster because of injury. The team is arguably better without Josh Gorges ($3.9 million), though, who they have been healthy scratching, but the same might be true of Zach Bogosian. The Leafs pay $19.26 million for their imperfect top seven guys, and there’s only one ELC in there keeping it cheap.

So the Sabres have an overpaid and bad defence, an underpaid and bad forward group, except for the top three overpaid guys, and cheap goalies. Remind me again how they were actually trying to be good? Injuries are a real problem on the team, sure, but only Eichel is missed. No one on the team is meeting expectations, but come on, that’s not a competitive roster. It’s the biggest collection of bad contracts and depth played too high in the lineup outside of Ottawa.

And the Sabres are in last place in a division that includes Ottawa! That’s impressive. But if the Leafs don’t approach this game expecting a snarling unhappy team, driven to rage and possibly some goals for by the go Leafs go chants in their own arena, they’ll be very unhappy with the result.

The Sabres might be a joke team right now, but the joke will be on Toronto if they don’t play this game with everything they didn’t use in that dreadful showing on Saturday.

Go Leafs Go — for real this time, though.