Toronto Maple Leafs Gameday: Controlling The Play In Buffalo

Oct 20, 2016; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner (16) against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 20, 2016; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner (16) against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Maple Leafs will be facing off against the Buffalo Sabres tonight in an anti-climactic game that won’t feature Matthews v. Eichel in the Great American Showdown.

Eichel, of course, is injured, so Auston Matthews will lead his Toronto Maple Leafs squad against a less marketable crew of players.

In the standings, the Sabres are one point up on the Leafs and hold a game in hand. Neither team is currently in a playoff position – which is something that should be the theme all season long.

The Sabres have been absolutely putrid in the offensive department this year, scoring only 22 goals, while the Leafs have lit the lamp 29 times over their 10 games.

Goaltending has been the Sabres saving grace, allowing only 22 goals this season, as opposed to Toronto’s 37 goals against total.

It’s safe to say that there’s one exciting team hitting the ice tonight and one team that is determined to get you to bed early.

The Sabres have found most of their success this year on the road, going 1-2 in three home games. The Leafs have yet to win a road game through six chances.

From a standings view, this game should be fairly even, but there’s more to the story than simply the teams win/loss record.

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Oct 25, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward William Nylander (29) looks to make a pass against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

While the Sabres have played one less game and have one more point, the story behind both teams is reversed.

The Sabres are one of the worst possession teams through the first month of action and the Leafs are near the top. It matters.

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Buffalo ranks 26th (47.1) out of 30 teams in score-adjusted fenwick and Toronto’s number comes in at 10th (51.9). The Leafs should be able to control possession tonight against the Sabres if they play the way they are capable of.

Controlling possession – though it does more often than not – doesn’t always lead to good things because there’s the good old fashioned luck factor. Luck can go either way, a high/low shooting percentage or a high/low save percentage at 5v5.

The Sabres are coming in around average with a PDO of 100.65, a number being aided in getting above 100 by an above average save percentage from below average goaltenders.

Toronto, on the other hand, falls under the bad luck category.

Their shooting percentage is just above average, but their save pecentage at 5v5 has been atrocious. You already know that, though, and Andersen has generally played well his last few outings.

If the Leafs can get average goaltending they should be able to skate past the Sabres with how they’ve played, on average, thoughout the year. They are the better team.

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Oct 25, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews (34) takes a slapshot against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second period at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Storylines

  • Auston Matthews hasn’t recorded a point in four games. Against the poor possession Buffalo Sabres expectations should be higher.
  • Connor Carrick has only one point in 10 games so far this year, but he does lead the team in CA60 (min 50 TOI) with -9.7. No one allows less shot attempts per 60, relative, than Connor Carrick, so his lack of offensive production is much easier to swallow with his defensive success.
  • Who generates the most shot attempts for per 60 at 5v5 for the Leafs? What should be the Leafs official top line (Nylander, Hyman, Matthews) rank 1-2-5, in that order, for relative CF60. The 3-4 spots are owned by what should be the Leafs top defensive pairing, with Morgan Rielly at three and Jake Gardiner at four.
  • In addition to being two of the top shot attempt for generators, Nylander and Matthews are also 3rd and 4th in relative CA60. Leo Komarov is 2nd and Nazem Kadri is 5th.
  • Tyler Bozak has recorded zeros on the stat sheet four of his last five games, the only game he recorded points in that time-frame was when Mitch Marner set him up twice.

The Buffalo Sabres provide an opportunity for slumping players to break out and consistently good players to take advantage of a weaker opponent.

That’s not to say it will happen, but there’s a much better chance of some breakout play against the Sabres than there was against the Edmonton Oilers – a game the Leafs were dominated at evens throughout but still pulled out a win.

Game time is 7PM ET.

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