Buffalo Sabres @ Toronto Maple Leafs
07:00 PM at Scotiabank Arena
Watch on: NHLN, CBC, SN360, SNO, SNW, SNP, MSG-B
The Leafs last game was an away game on November 2 against the Boston Bruins, which Toronto lost by a score of 3-2. The Leafs have a record of 5-3-2 so far.
The Buffalo Sabres last played at home last night against the Philadelphia Flyers. The Sabres lost by a score of 5-1, and their current league record is 5-6-0.
Buffalo was supposed to be on the up this year, one of the teams pressing from below to make the Atlantic a tangle of potential playoff teams. So far that's not happening. At a Points % of .455, they are in seventh place, well below the struggling Lightning and just above the cursed Ottawa Senators.
But it's a feature of the way the first short stretch of games work that their goal differential is -1, the Leafs is +1 and the teams are only separated by two points even though the Leafs are in third place at .600.
I know where the Leafs are struggling to rise above mediocrity, but what about the Sabres? They have 11 games, the Leafs 10, and they have an identical Expected Goals % at five-on-five of 47. The Leafs have the puck a little more with 49% Corsi to their 48.
The Edge Zone Time graphic has the Sabres at a terrible 40% offensive zone time in all situations (remember that some of that number is going to be driven by the PP time for and against, not possession). Toronto's is 41.9, which is a few hundredths off league average. So, that's the margin between coming in somewhere in the bottom half of the NHL and the 62nd percentile where the Leafs are.
At five-on-five, the Sabres have been good/lucky with finishing, and sit fourth in the league in Sh% and they've been bad/unlucky with goaltending sitting sixth worst. The Leafs are average at both things.
While that xG% was identical, the path to it is not. The Sabres are really struggling to put up offence, and their Sh% is hiding that. Their power play is as terrible as Toronto's is good – this gap is huge. The Leafs are struggling defensively by about the same amount the Sabres are offensively, but their overall league-average goaltending is helping, where the Sabres have two goalies each producing results a small amount better than Ilya Samsonov's overall performance and they've had some luck in their third goalie's three starts, where he's been okay. That being the now-injured Eric Comrie.
Bad defence or bad goalie? Hot shooting or better offence? It all looks the same.
Heather Engel via Daily Faceoff
Jordan Greenway - Tage Thompson - Brandon Biro
Jeff Skinner - Casey Mittelstadt - John Jason Peterka
Lukas Rousek - Dylan Cozens - Alex Tuch
Zemgus Girgensons - Peyton Krebs - Kyle Okposo
Rasmus Dahlin - Mattias Samuelsson
Owen Power - Henri Jokiharju
Connor Clifton - Erik Johnson
Devon Levi - likely starter
Ukka Pekka Luukkonen - played last night
Nothing like a timely injury to give John Klingberg more ice time and another chance to prove his assets are more than his liabilities. At the moment, I would not lend him any money, but who knows, he could surprise us all.
Both Max Lajoie and Simon Benoit have NHL experience. Neither was being cruelly denied an NHL job by being sent to the Marlies. But opportunities come out of other's misfortune in hockey, and it's up to them what they make of it. The lines at morning skate indicate it's Lajoie getting the nod.
Calle Järnkrok - Auston Matthews - Mitch Marner
Tyler Bertuzzi - John Tavares - William Nylander
Matt Knies - David Kämpf - Max Domi
Noah Gregor - Pontus Holmberg - Ryan Reaves
Morgan Rielly - TJ Brodie
Mark Giordano - John Klingberg
William Lagesson - Max Lajoie
Joe Woll - expected starter
The defensive execution has been "the problem" affecting the Leafs. They are worse at Expected Goals against than Unblocked Shots against, which means they're allowing high quality chances.
Some offensive line sloppiness in the last few games disappeared for the most part against the Bruins, and that was a well-played game until the late stages. A full well-played game is required from now on. Much like last year when all the defencemen were on IR together, the forwards have to play at their best, and remember who is backing them up when they start taking risks offensively.
The Sabres are playing a SEGABABA with travel. Take advantage of that, Leafs.