Buffalo Sabres (5-16) Toronto Maple Leafs (11-8)
These same two clubs played in Buffalo last night with the Sabres prevailing 3-1. The game will part of the traditional Saturday evening Hockey Night in Canada broadcast for our good friends north of the border. According to NHL betting odds Toronto is a -220 money line home favorite and the posted total is set at 5.0. Toronto has beaten Buffalo in 6 of the last 7-games at the Air Canada Centre. However, the Sabres have won 19 of the last 28 meetings overall versus the Leafs.
Out with the New and back with the Old
The Sabres owner Terry Pegula really shook things up this past week. Following Tuesday’s 3-2 overtime shootout win over the Los Angeles Kings, both the Head Coach Ron Rolston, and General Manager Darcy Regier were relieved of their duties. Pegula turned to pages from the past when he brought in former Sabres bench boss Ted Nolan as the interim head coach, and former Sabres great Pat Lafontaine to be the President of Hockey Operations. The script couldn’t have been written any better as the struggling team turned in by far their best performance of the season last night in a 3-1 home win.
Bring back the Passion and Pride
The one thing that was quite evident to me when watching last night’s game was the amount of passion the Sabres displayed. Besides an extremely young overmatched roster, the thing that was most bothersome when watching this team under the prior regime was the lack of competitiveness and intensity. The fans of Buffalo can tolerate the temporary youth and inexperience issues. What they couldn’t stomach was the poor effort level, and the unwillingness to compete. Ted Nolan has shown in his previous two NHL head coaching tenures with the Sabres, and then the Islanders, that he can get the most out of what he has to work with. His past teams overachieved in addition to playing an exciting brand of hockey.
Goal Scoring Drought
Toronto enters tonight’s game having lost their last 3, and 4 of the last 5-games. During that 5-game funk the Leafs have scored a combined 5-goals. They’ve scored 1-goal or less in 4 of those 5-games. This same Toronto team scored 3 or more goals in 10 of their first 14-games before their recent 5-game power outage.
What’s often overlooked with this year’s Maple Leafs team is their play in goal. Due to their wide open style of play, and highly skilled forwards, it’s easy to ignore an element of their game which was a key to early season success. The Toronto goaltenders Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer have both played at a very high level in the first 19-games of the season. Bernier has posted an impressive 2.05 GAA, and an excellent .938 save percentage in 13 starts. Reimer has been terrific in limited duty with a 2.30 GAA, and a terrific .942 save percentage in 6 starts. Considering the Leafs are allowing an average of 35.8 shots on goal per game, both goalies stat lines look even more impressive.
You would think the obvious sports pick here would be on the Toronto Maple Leafs with all things considered. I’m not saying I totally disagree with that assumption, but I can definitively say you will never get me to wager this much juice on the money line. The Sabres are dead last in the NHL averaging 1.7 goals per game. I already documented the Leafs recent scoring struggles. Both backup goaltenders James Reimer (Toronto) and Jonas Enroth (Buffalo) are scheduled to make the start tonight. They’ve both been very good when given their limited opportunities this season. For our NHL picks, I have the slightest of leans in the game toward a lower scoring affair.
Free Pick: Buffalo/Toronto to go under the total of 5.0