January 21 2013 11:45AM
Photo credit: David Sandford/Getty Images via NHL
Holy moly, is it really time to write another game preview? Toronto have their home opener tonight, against another Northeast Division team, the Buffalo Sabres. Ben Scrivens is slated to start in net again, and he'll look to build on a first game performance where he stopped 21 shots, including every single attempt at even strength, but looked real shaky doing it. I guess that's what happens when you have an unconventional style, or when you're a goalie with minimal NHL experience opening the season in a game between Original Six rivals.
Either way, he got the job done. After going head-to-head with Carey Price on Saturday, he gets the call against another all-world goalie in Ryan Miller tonight. Scheduled puck drop at 7:00, but I have a feeling that could be a few minutes late.
Who are the Buffalo Sabres? Well, much like the teams in the rest of the Northeast Division, they lack an identity right now. Remember coming out of the last lockout when the Sabres were the young, high-flying team that cut through opponents like butter and scored oodles of powerplay goals every game? Ryan Miller got run over by Milan Lucic last season and the Sabres responded by bulking up, adding Steve Ott and John Scott to a roster that failed to make the playoffs last season.
Steve Ott, contrary to popular belief, is no slouch. He's a decent hockey player who is restrained by the fact that he spends so much time in the penalty box. Last year, he led the Dallas Stars in face-off wins, face-off percentage, was a key penalty-killer and split time at first line centre for the Stars with Jamie Benn, helping to ease his transition to pivot.
The bad sometimes outweighs the good however. He took 156 penalties, 38 of the minor variety, which also led his team. Among that, he got 6 majors and 5 misconducts. While I'm sure it's nice for a hockey team to know one of their most important players has its back, it might be a whole lot nicer for the Stars to have had an important player like Ott play shifts instead of sit in the dressing room sitting out misconducts.
True to form in his debut with the Sabres, Ott scored a goal, recorded three shots on net, was 4-2 in the face-off circle, had 1:40 of powerplay time, and recorded a minor penalty. The Sabres won 5-2 over the Philadelphia Flyers, who don't have any defencemen. Their leader in even strength ice-time yesterday was Luke Schenn, who was sixth in even strength time-on-ice per game on the Leafs last season. The Leafs!
Puck Drop: 7 PM EST
TV: Sportsnet Ontario
Okay, so what do we know about the Buffalo Sabres?
Here are their projected line combinations via The Daily Faceoff:
Thomas Vanek - Cody Hodgson - Jason Pominville
Marcus Foligno - Tyler Ennis - Drew Stafford
Steve Ott - Mikhail Grigorenko - Jochen Hecht
John Scott - Matt Ellis - Patrick Kaleta
Robyn Regehr - Tyler Myers
Christian Ehrhoff - Alexander Sulzer
Jordan Leopold - Andrej Sekera
The only confirmed lineup change for the Sabres is that the expensive Ville Leino will be out with a "nagging injury". That's the only description I can find, but it's rare that a hockey player misses time because they've spent too much time on the phone with their mother.
The most recent info I can find is that Cody McCormick and Nathan Gerbe are on the injured reserve, so I've amended the fourth line spot from TDF's projection to include Matt Ellis. Patrick Kaleta skated with Mikhail Grigorenko and Jochen Hecht yesterday, but Steve Ott found himself practicing on that line today. It's pretty much the second game of the pre-season right now, so Lindy Ruff is every coach is surely going to amend their lineup at some point.
What Leaf fans can expect is that Thomas Vanek is a dangerous hockey player that has scored 25 goals at least in each of his first seven seasons. Grigorenko was a top-ranked prospect that fell to 12th overall, although he was used sparingly in his first NHL game. Cody Hodgson was a strong offensive player last season who is getting more of an opportunity in Buffalo than he was in Vancouver (including leading all forwards with 2:07 of shorthanded ice-time in the debut!)
The defence has some big names, but isn't more than a top-ranked pair. Christian Ehrhoff signed for all that money last offseason and isn't even on the first PP unit. Instead, he's on a rare all-German pairing with Alexander Sulzer. At least Buffalo have all of their good defencemen in this one, so it will be a bigger test for the Leafs' forwards than against Montreal. I'm not so sure Buffalo is a playoff team yet, but they look a heck of a lot better than the Canadiens do on paper, so the Leafs defence will be tested some.
This table includes what we believe to be the best "predictive" team metrics in hockey. Beyond the self-explanatory stats like record, power-play percentage and goal differential, this table includes: 5-on-5 Goals For and Against Rate to serve as a check on goal differential. It also includes Corsi%, an indicator of possession and shows us which team is better at controlling play and Fenwick Tied% which is the gold standard for measuring "real" team quality. We also include PDO (the sum of a team's on-ice save% and shooting%) to qualify a team's record - and to try and isolate whether or not a particular opponent (or the Canucks) is as good as their record indicates.
**For the first ten games or so of the 2013 season we'll use last season's "fancy stats" and then switch over to stats from the 2013 season when the sample gets big enough to provide you with some value.
Thanks to the indispensible Behindthenet.ca for some numbers.
- Joffrey Lupul signs long-term. A few thoughts (Maple Leafs Hot Stove)
- Scrivens and Reimer hope to be a "two-headed monster" (National Post)
- Three questions with a Sabres blogger (Pension Plan Puppets)
- Holzer, Fraser draw into lineup (Sportsnet)