GDT: Bring on Buffalo


The Leafs will be looking to their fresh faces and new identity to bust the curse of the HSBC Arena when they visit Buffalo tonight.  These hopeful heroes include rookies Nazem Kadri and Keith Aulie, both of whom have not been exposed to the high-energy, fast-paced nature of these divisional games.  Also encompassed in this group is former Sabre Clarke MacArthur.  MacArthur will be looking to score against his ex-teammate Ryan Miller, who returns tonight to fuel a Buffalo team that is struggling.

The Matchup Stats

You’ve heard it from pretty much everywhere, so you don’t need me to remind you of the beating Toronto has received from Buffalo in recent years, especially at the HSBC Arena.  To quantify Ryan Miller’s success alone, he has thrown down a 14-5 record with an absurd 1.89 GAA in the last three regular seasons against the Leafs.  However, there are a few other Sabres that step up their game for this rivalry, such as Jason Pominville, who has averaged a shade over a PPG with an impressive 22 points in his last 21 games against the Leafs.  Pominville has been especially effective in his role as the powerplay point-man for the Slugs, notching 10 powerplay points in those 21 games with 54 shots on goal.

At the other side of the ice, Jonas Gustavsson is still seeking his first win against Buffalo, although he has performed well with a 0.906 SV% in three losses (two of which were in extra time).  Defensive stalwart Freddy Sjostrom has seen some of his best offensive output against the Sabres, posting a 0.5 PPG in recent years against this foe.  Regardless of whether he notches a goal or not, Sjostrom will be relied upon heavily to shutdown Buffalo’s most potent duo in Derek Roy and Thomas Vanek.  The checking-line winger is used to this task, as he regularly faces the leagues best forwards and sit’s fifth in the league amongst forwards in terms of the quality of competition that he faces.

Strategical Keys

As stated above, Vanek and Roy have been dangerous thus far for the Sabres, and the Leafs coaching staff will surely make their players aware of that.  This is slightly uncharacteristic of the pair, as Roy is a notorious second-half producer that seems to have found his mojo early this season.  Moreover, Vanek had a rough outing in 2009-2010 (lack of consistency), but has bounced back admirably and is a force on a nightly basis (the consistency is back).

An improving Leafs penalty kill should aim to stifle the fifth-worst powerplay that Buffalo brings into this game.  The Sabres still utilize Pominville on the point, although the diminutive Nathan Gerbe brings a different look to a unit that is desperate to get going.  As a byproduct of their rough start this campaign, Buffalo is allowing a porous 3.00 GAA that the Leafs scorers will need to take advantage of.  Ideally, the massive turnover that this organization has seen in the past year should generate more than a few individuals who are ready to shake off the psychological factor of these matches in Buffalo.

Gameday Quote

On that note, Kadri appears to be embodying this very concept, as he offered his opinion on the troubles Toronto has had in Buffalo:

“I’ve heard that but we’re not thinking about that.  We’re just going to go out there and do little things right and get the win.”

To do that, Toronto will need to continue the trend of recent games and keep things simple, as center Tim Brent explained:

“When we’re playing our best, we’re a simple, effective team, not turning pucks over at blue lines. We’re getting pucks out and getting pucks in. Nice, short passes instead of going 30 feet across the ice. We have to go just nine or 10 feet and make two or three of those.”

With adherence to the system described by Brent, the Leafs can secure a win that will put them in a position tomorrow night against Ottawa to take a very-important four points from divisional rivals .