LGD - Game 40: Sabres @ Leafs - Arms race

Cam Charron
December 27 2013 10:17AM

Three days without hockey, and when they give it back to you, they also give you the potential for a Jerred Smithson line with Frazer McLaren and Colt Knorr. Hardly makes it worth it. Smithson, McLaren and Knorr would be touched up by most of the top lines at the World Junior Championships this week, and those games are already on TV. We didn't need the NHL to come back to watch non-NHL hockey. I also doubt any of those players would even crack the Spengler Cup roster.

I suppose the saving grace is that Randy Carlyle usually makes one or two roster changes right before the game starts, so let's hope that it winds up with one (or two) (or all) of those three players getting a late scratch. The fact that it's plausible to think Carlyle will go back to that 38-22-28 line now that every player is available to him points to the problem—Carlyle can easily diagnose the problems ("we're giving the puck away too much" "we're giving up too many shots") but his solutions exist to exasperate the problems.

The Christmas break did not make me any less grouchy when it comes to Leafs lineup decisions, apparently.

KEY STATISTICS

  Sabres Leafs
Corsi Close % 42.1% (30th) 42.6% (29th)
5v5 GF/60 1.46 (30th) 2.10 (19th)
5v5 GA/60 2.41 (22nd) 2.23 (15th)
PDO 98.3 (26th) 101.7 (5th)
     
  Sabres Leafs
5v4 GF/60 4.48 (27th) 7.64 (5th)
5v4 SF/60 46.1 (27th) 54.9 (9th)
4v5 GA/60 6.57 (19th) 6.65 (20th)
4v5 SA/60 62.5 (28th) 62.0 (27th)
Penalty Differential -1 (16th) -14 (26th)

From NHL.com and ExtraSkater.

Here's what you need to know about both the Sabres and the Maple Leafs:

  • They both give up a lot of shots.
  • They both have offensive issues.
  • They both have penalty-killing issues.

The major difference between the clubs is that the Leafs have a higher PDO and the Leafs have a pretty good powerplay. Otherwise, they have more similarities than differences. Both teams have eight wins in their previous 25 games, although in the games before those 25, the Leafs were getting many more wins than Buffalo. As a result of the differing hot and cold first months, one team has a playoff shot and the other doesn't.

MAPLE LEAFS LINEUP

Here we are via Daily Faceoff:

James van Riemsdyk - Nazem Kadri - Phil Kessel
Mason Raymond - Peter Holland - Joffrey Lupul
Nik Kulemin - Jay McClement - David Clarkson
Jerry D'Amigo - Jerred Smithson - Colt Knorr

Carl Gunnarsson - Dion Phaneuf
Jake Gardiner - Cody Franson
Morgan Rielly - Paul Ranger

Daily Faceoff is more optimistic about a scratch for McLaren than I am. I guess we'll have to see come game time. There is still no good reason to have Smithson and Knorr in the lineup rather than Greg McKegg and Carter Ashton, especially if the team desperately needs offence.

SABRES LINEUP

Also via DF:

Matt Moulson - Tyler Ennis - Zemgus Girgensons
Steve Ott - Ville Leino - Drew Stafford
Marcus Foligno - Brian Flynn - Matt D'Agostini
Linus Omark - Kevin Porter - Matt Ellis

Henrik Tallinder - Tyler Myers
Alexander Sulzer - Christian Ehrhoff
Jamie McBain - Mike Weber

It's tough to assume usage, because the team has gone through so many different roster permutations so far this year. While playoffs are out of the question and the team probably has one or two lottery picks left before it can contend, they do have some reasonable players coming out of this year. Zemgus Girgensons has become a reasonably good possession player and his 1.18 points per 60 minutes is second on the team behind Cody Hodgson.

Matt Moulson has also played well for the Sabres, and the team should get one or two good chips by the time they trade him. Cody Hodgson being hurt means the team has to experiment with different forward units and maybe there will be something that clicks.

The Sabres gave John Scott some time on forward and defence last game (hint: he can't do either very well) and perhaps the Leafs threatening to dress Orr and McLaren was a foil to get Ted Nolan to put Scott in the lineup in place of a real hockey player like Linus Omark (whom I've always liked and don't think has gotten a fair shot at this level yet). We'll see come game time.

STARTING GOALIES

(and a paragraph as useful as most goalie statistics)

Jonathan Bernier versus Ryan Miller. Had this discussion on Twitter yesterday: do you like the popcorn-flavoured Jelly Belly candies? I generally like coffee and chocolate, but not a fan of the coffee and chocolate-flavoured beans. Popcorn is one of my favourite flavours because it's not a traditional candy flavour and attempts to simulate butter. Gotta give the Jelly Belly people props for trying to do that.

The Leafs and the Sabres start at 7:30 tonight. The extra half-hour is owing to the reality it takes most of the players on the Sabres longer to tie their own skates.

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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 WesternDP
December 27 2013, 11:28AM
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"There is still no good reason to have Smithson and Knorr in the lineup rather than Greg McKegg and Carter Ashton, especially if the team desperately needs offence."

McLaren-Smithson-Orr is ok if you have no other options and are playing a super tough team...but the Leafs do have some options.

If you have a good farm team you should use it! Bring up a player or two for some extra energy, especially if the team has been flat...and the Leafs have been flat.

Jamie Devane is probably a better player (much faster) than McLaren and Orr, but David Broll is even more compelling. Broll has 7 points and recent game winning goal.

In addtion to considering Ashton and McKegg, also consider giving Sam Carrick a chance to center the fourth line. He has 12 points and has been playing tough as nails with 54 penalty minutes. he would be fun to watch for some shifts against Steve Ott. They are about the same size and temperment.

On Sunday, against a softer Carolina team, let Spencer Abbott play. The guy has 27 points in 26 games and is plus 10. Reward the guy. The Marlies don't play on Saturday, so he should be fresh and flying on Sunday night.

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#2 Self Destructive Zones
December 27 2013, 10:42AM
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I enjoy mixing the popcorn flavoured Jelly Belly beans with other flavours to create delicious flavour combinations. The possibilities are endless!

Jelly Bellies are entirely unlike Randy's fourth line up there, which limits the possibilities greatly and the possibilities that do exist are awful.

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#3 kesselkadri
December 27 2013, 11:56AM
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The team has much bigger problems then the 4th line. With the level of effort we see most night from this team, I'd rather watch orr at least try but fail to play hockey then the current team that are just collecting big pay checks. The comedy of Orr playing hockey would be great. The identify of the team is sushi eating Plantinum ticket holders.

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#4 Jeremy Ian
December 27 2013, 03:51PM
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Hm.

"The major difference between the clubs is that the Leafs have a higher PDO and the Leafs have a pretty good powerplay. Otherwise, they have more similarities than differences. Both teams have eight wins in their previous 25 games, although in the games before those 25, the Leafs were getting many more wins than Buffalo. As a result of the differing hot and cold first months, one team has a playoff shot and the other doesn't."

Projected cap spending, 2013-14:

Leafs: $67.1m

Sabres: $57.5m

9th in payroll vs 24th in payroll.

I would have expected more changes in the lineup to try to get the performance gap to map onto the payroll gap. But maybe C just wants to grind this one out and wait for the juggling for Sunday. I suspect so, as the big change will come when Bozak's back, put Kadri back onto a more sheltered 2nd line, Holland on 3rd and get McClement to anchor a more effective 4th and save him more for the PK. Right now, McC is playing too much, which weakens the PK.

Good quote: "his solutions exist to exasperate the problems."

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