Preview: Game #6 Leafs @ Sabres

Cam Charron
January 29 2013 02:00PM

The hilarious thing is that Mike Komisarek suffered a freak injury doing "something he regrets" according to Randy Carlyle.

The not-so hilarious thing is that apparently his injury involved a fibreglass shard to the eye, which seems like it would hurt a lot. The other not-so hilarious thing is that Mike Komisarek is one of the five legitimate NHLers the Maple Leafs have on defence. Komisarek has been useful on the penalty kill this season, on a team of defencemen that don't have an awful lot of experience playing the penalty kill.

The Leafs lineup isn't yet set, and isn't exactly known which defenceman will take Komisarek's spot, but Jake Gardiner was recalled from the Toronto Marlies earlier today and will be a "game-time decision". Hopefully, both Gardiner and Franson will slot into the lineup at the expense of Mark Fraser, Gardiner can play limited offensive minutes with Marlies defensive partner Mike Kostka, and the Leafs can return Dion Phaneuf to his comfort zone alongside Carl Gunnarsson. The Leafs may need a five-man checking unit tonight.

The opponent, the Buffalo Sabres, a 2-3 squad, same as the Leafs, and they've dropped all three games since starting the year 2-0, which sounds worse when you learn that all three defeats came within the Southeast Division.

Buffalo has had one line that has been a consistent scoring threat all year. Jason Pominville-Cody Hodgson-Thomas Vanek ate up the Leafs during Toronto's home opener. Vanek has been on the ice for 11 of Buffalo's 13 goals, while Hodgson and Pominville have each been on for nine. The reason that line is a key, key matchup is that they've been just as bad defensively as they've been good offensively—Pominville and Hodgson are both minus-players. While plus/minus doesn't mean a whole heck of a lot, especially this early in the season, I find it funny that these players have combined for such an elevated on-ice shooting rate, yet their PDOs are below 1000.

Despite missing the game against the Capitals, Thomas Vanek will be back in the lineup tonight.

It's unreal. Lindy Ruff doesn't zone match his players, so the Leafs are going to have to be extra careful without the last change if they're going to insist on matching Mikhail Grabovski and Nik Kulemin against the Sabres' top line. It's also critical that Vanek doesn't get to play too many shifts without either Carl Gunnarsson or Dion Phaneuf staring him down.

Broadcast Info:

Puck Drop: 7 PM PST

TV: Leafs TV

Setup:

In their first encounter, Buffalo beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 2-1, but thanks to a slew of first period power plays and playing the third period from behind, and quite recklessly, Toronto actually got more scoring chances than Buffalo at 20-9.

Since then, the Sabres have been on a bit of a downward spiral. They lost 6-3 to Carolina, 3-1 again to Carolina, and 3-2 to Washington on national television Sunday afternoon. Like the Leafs, they haven't shown an ability to be a good puck-possession club yet, with a Fenwick Tied rate of 48.2%, similar to where they were last season.

Toronto hasn't exactly improved in that department, but I don't think that optimism rings as high in Toronto as it does for Buffalo. The Sabres appear to be attempting some sort of rebuild on the fly, trying to become a "tough" team with the additions this season of Steve Ott and giving Marcus Foligno a regular shift. They drafted an NHL-ready centreman in Mikhail Grigorenko, but are playing him against toughs with Jochen Hecht and Steve Ott.

Here's how the Sabres lineup stacks up, as best I can tell:

Thomas Vanek - Cody Hodgson - Jason Pominville
Marcus Foligno - Tyler Ennis - Drew Stafford
Steve Ott - Mikhail Grigorenko - Jochen Hecht

I can't find any details of what the fourth line will be like, but they play about four minutes a game, so it shouldn't be too consequential.

On defence, Robyn Regehr injured his foot, so it looks like Mike Weber will get his first action of the young season.

Jordan Leopold - Andrej Sekera
Mike Weber - Tyler Myers
Christian Ehrhoff - Alexander Sulzer

Ryan Miller
Jhonas Enroth

I'll admit I don't know where Weber will fall in, but his only common playing partner last season was Regehr, who is unavailable. That injury will break up the Sabres' second pairing, and I imagine they won't throw Weber to the wolves against Phil Kessel. That may mean Nazem Kadri spends some time against Tyler Myers tonight, and given that Kadri's line has been "better" offensively than Kessel's if you look at goal total alone, that may be the matchup the Sabres would want to shut him down.

For Toronto, Clarke MacArthur is out along with Mike Komisarek for tonight. It sounds like James van Riemsdyk will move up to the top line with Kessel and Bozak, while Jay McClement will slot in next to Grabovski and Kulemin. That's a line that's been used as a third period shutdown unit for Toronto, and McClement-Kulemin kill penalties together so it's not a huge shift in personnel. This will be the first time van Riemsdyk gets significant minutes with Kessel.

Dave Steckel will draw into the lineup between Colton Orr and Mike Brown. That at least gives Carlyle a secondary penalty killing option at centre, and hopefully he won't keep going back to Tyler Bozak, who is on the "still dreadful" half of the Leafs' penalty-kill.

Ryan Miller for Buffalo, who was the first star last time around. James Reimer gets his first start tonight against a that isn't favoured to win the Eastern Conference.

(s/t to sources Behindthenet and NHL.com for statistics)

Game Notes:

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Cam Charron is a BC hockey fan that writes about hockey on many different websites including this one.
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#1 leaferfan
January 29 2013, 04:24PM
Trash it!
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trashes
+1
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props

I don't mind Komisarek being out. Kostka and Fraser are ready to step in with big minutes come game time.

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