If there’s one place that Toronto Maple Leafs fans should fear their team playing in, it’s in Buffalo, NY. The Leafs sport a horrible record playing in Buffalo, which currently sits at 27-54-6-2. It seems that no matter how good each team is, whenever a Leafs/Sabres match-up occurs in Buffalo, the Leafs always find a way to blow it. What’s even more strange is that one would expect the Leafs to play fairly well in Buffalo — after all, Buffalo is quite close to Toronto, and there are many Leafs fans in Niagara Falls and the surrounding area who prefer to see games in Buffalo, due to the cheaper ticket cost and proximity to their home. Whenever you watch a game between the Leafs and Sabres in Buffalo, the crowd is almost completely spit between Leafs fans and Sabres fans.
The Leafs (8-9-1-2) will look to finally buck this trend tonight, when they travel down the QEW to face the Buffalo Sabres (8-12-3-0) at the HSBC arena. This will be MacArthur’s first appearance in Buffalo after being traded to the Atlanta Thrashers on March 3rd, 2010, in exchange for a third and fourth round pick. MacArthur then went on to sign with the Leafs in the off season. He will be looking to perform well against the team that originally drafted him.
The Leafs are coming off an impressive win against the Dallas Stars, which seems like eons ago due to the wonderful scheduling the Leafs inherited from the NHL. That game was on Monday, so the Leafs have had plenty of time to rest, and get some much needed practice in. Gustavsson will get his fourth straight start tonight, and will also get the start tomorrow night against the Ottawa senators. Giguere is expected to travel with the team, but isn’t expected to play.
Tonight will be the Leafs’ 9th road game of the year. The road has not been very friendly to the Leafs, as they currently stand at a record of 2-5-0-1. They will look to improve on this record tonight in the second meeting of the season against the Sabres. In the first meeting of the year, on November 6th, the Leafs blew a 2-0 lead and lost to Buffalo in the shootout. If you recall, that shootout went to five rounds, with Ennis winning it for Buffalo. Enroth stone-walled the Leafs in that game, as Miller was out injured. Who knew Enroth was such a good goalie? I suspect he isn’t very good, but he was playing against the Leafs, so… In contrast, the Sabres are not much better than the Leafs, sporting a home record of 3-8-1-0. They will also be looking to reverse their fortunes.
Toronto’s line-up tonight will feature very little changes from that which has been winning, with the exception of Luca Caputi being inserted into the fourth line (playing alongside Orr and Mitchell). Kadri will get his 6th start tonight, and has looked impressive in his first 5 starts. He currently sits at 4 points (all assists), and will be looking to get his first goal. He has come close as of late, and one can feel that it will be any day now that he notches his first.
In terms of the match-up itself, the Leafs are coming in having gone 3-5-0-2 in their last 10 games, whereas the Sabres are 5-4-1-0 in their last 10. The Sabres are battling through some significant injuries as well, with Roy, Connolly, Niedermeyer, and Stafford out. Miller is slated as “Probable” for tonight’s game, as well as Derek Roy. Tim Connolly is slated as “questionable” for tonight’s game. The Sabres have dropped their last 2 games in a row, with their last loss coming at the hands of Pittsburgh (0-1 in favour of Pittsburgh).
Both teams feature rather poor scoring. A breakdown of the scoring per period for each team is provided below:
As has been the case for most of the year, the Leafs worst period for giving up goals has been the first period. As of late, they have been very good at bucking this trend, however they need to continue to push the opposition such that they do not get the first goal of the game. In contrast, the Sabres give up the majority of their goals in the second period, which is where the Leafs get the majority of their goals on offense. This could translate to a high scoring second period if both teams continue their trends.
In terms of the first goal, the proportion of teams by which each team has scored first, or has been scored on first, is provided below.
Both teams tend to be scored on first, with the Sabres having given up the first goal slightly more often than the Leafs. In terms of winning percentages for each team when scoring first, or trailing first, the following chart is provided.
According to the chart above, the Leafs win close to 70% of the games in which they score first, whereas the Sabres win less than 50% of the time they score first. Furthermore, the Leafs have a less than 20% winning percentage when trailing first, whereas the Sabres are slightly higher with a near 30% winning percentage when trailing first.
Goal scoring for each team is broken down as follows:
The Sabres feature a slightly more balanced scoring roster, however it is not by much. The Sabres scoring is lead by Derek Roy, who has 9 goals and 14 assists this year, for a total of 23 points. The rest of the team (listed as ‘other’) accounts for 89 points, 23 more points than the remaining Leafs roster. MacArthur is the leading Leafs scorer, and will be looking to put a statement on tonight’s game by playing as best he can against his former team. Expect to see MacArthur get many chances tonight.
In terms of the “Leaf Killers” on the Sabres, the following chart is provided, where total points are depicted against total number of games played vs. Leafs.
The most dangerous player facing the Leafs tonight is Vanek, with Derek Roy and Connolly close behind. All have been historically good against the Leafs. Roy and Connolly are not 100% confirmed for tonight’s game, but in all likelihood they will be playing. The Leafs will need to shut these players down to ensure a solid victory.
In terms of goaltenders, Buffalo will ice Miller and Toronto will feature Gustavsson in net. All Leafs fans by now know that Ryan Miller is like a god when playing against the Leafs. If I could, I would have included him in the “Sabres Top Scorers vs. Leafs” chart, but surprisingly he hasn’t scored any goals against the Leafs.
In 30 starts against the Leafs, Ryan Miller has an astounding 22 wins. He has always been phenomenal against the Leafs, and you have to wonder whether or not he has gotten into the Leafs players heads.
In terms of goals against and save percentages for both Gustavsson and Miller, the following charts are provided:
Gustavsson’s goalst against average on the road is near 3 goals per game, with a slightly lower goals against average when facing the Sabres. Miller has an approximately 2.75 goals against average at home, and an even lower goals against average against the Leafs (go figure). In terms of save percentages, Miller’s career save percentage against the Leafs hovers around 94%, with Gustavsson’s hovering around 91% against the Sabres. Look for Miller to be astounding once again tonight. My suspicion is that, with both goalies playing well and with both team’s offense lacking, this could be a rather tight and low scoring game.
Finally, in terms of specialty teams, the following chart is provided:
The Leafs’ road power play is terrible: just under 10%. Buffalo’s home power play is surprisingly just as bad, also hovering around 10%. The Leafs road penalty kill is a paltry 69%, with Buffalo’s penalty kill at home hovering around 86%. With both power plays being very poor, I wouldn’t expect to see much scoring on specialty teams, however the Sabres have a slight edge due to the Leafs’ incredibly poor penalty kill success rate on the road.
As stated earlier, expect tonight’s game to be incredibly tight, and low scoring. I would be inclined to suspect a 3-1 or 3-2 result. MacArthur will most likely be pumped to play his old team, and may be an energetic force out there. Kadri may also get his first goal tonight, and that may also spark the Leafs into a high tempo game. Goaltending on both sides has been fantastic, however, so don’t expect to see a whole lot of scoring tonight.