Game Day Questions: Toronto Maple Leafs vs Buffalo Sabres


Game Day Questions: Toronto Maple Leafs vs Buffalo Sabres

The Toronto Maple Leafs’ season hit a new low on Saturday when they were completely thrashed by the visiting Boston Bruins.

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In the aftermath of the game, head coach Randy Carlyle let loose on the Leafs’ general lack of competitiveness at home, the players held a private meeting and young defenceman Stuart Percy was reassigned to the Toronto Marlies. After a slow start to the season, the Leafs are already at risk of finding themselves in panic mode and beyond the point of reclamation.

That’s why tonight’s game against the equally bad Buffalo Sabres is so important for the Leafs. They have a chance here to quickly turn things around and return to the win column.

What specific challenges will the Leafs face tonight?

1) What kind of compete level will we see?

Following Saturday’s loss, Nazem Kadri insisted that skill and the desire to win aren’t absent in the Leafs’ dressing room. The Leafs are trying to put their best feet forward. It’s just that they’re playing “stupid” hockey right now, failing to execute all the small plays and seeing some big loses as a result.

After getting embarrassed at home, hearing Carlyle question their play at home and discussing the matter themselves, the Leafs can travel in one of two directions: down the same road or back to the win column.

The Leafs’ (3-4-1) desire to rebound and put things behind them might be helped by a Sabres (2-7-0) squad that’s also had a very disappointing start to the season. Both teams find themselves at the bottom of the Atlantic Division right now so this really is a battle for/of the basement.

2) Who gets the start?

After losing in overtime 1-0 to the Detroit Red Wings and piloting the Leafs to a 5-2 over the New York Islanders last week, it looked like Jonathan Bernier had reclaimed his hold on the starter’s job in Toronto. Unfortunately, Saturday’s spanking at the hands of the Bruins quickly reminded fans of Bernier’s rough start to the season.

Oct 25, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Boston Bruins center David Krejci (46) is congratulated by teammates after scoring a goal in the second period past Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier (45) at Air Canada Centre. The Bruins beat the Maple Leafs 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Bernier opened the new season for the Leafs with two straight loses. The Leafs wouldn’t record their first win of the season until Oct. 12 against the New York Rangers. It was James Reimer‘s first start of the season and it was good enough to see him get two additional straight starts. His magic, however, ran out in the third game where the Red Wings beat the Leafs 4-1, which brings us to the present problem in net: Toronto hasn’t seen consistent goaltending from either Bernier or Reimer so far.

The Leafs have a pair of back-to-back games this weekend so Bernier and Reimer are likely to split the goaltending duties at this point anyway, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Reimer back in the net tonight. If Bernier has one advantage, it’s the continuing support of his coach. Carlyle was quick to defend Bernier following Saturday’s loss.

3) Will the new lines stick?

As reported here, the Leafs tried out some new lines at practice on Monday.

Nov 8, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward Joffrey Lupul (19) congratulates forward Phil Kessel (81) after a goal against the New Jersey Devils in the third period at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto defeated New Jersey 2-1 in an overtime shoot out. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Phil Kessel found himself skating with Kadri and Joffrey Lupul while David Clarkson found himself skating with Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk. It’s not clear if these lines will stick or which one should be considered the “top” line.

Clarkson’s been a pleasant surprise to start the season, boasting two goals already after a dismal debut for the Leafs last season. Kessel, on the other hand, has alternated between dominant games and mediocre games so far this season. The Leafs are probably hoping that he finds some consistency in his game soon. As we’ve seen in the past, a productive Kessel is key to the team’s success.

There’ll be one other notable change in the Leafs’ lineup tonight. Percy has been reassigned to the Marlies so the Leafs are likely to use 12 forwards and six defencemen. This might see Matt Frattin find his way back into the lineup.

It would be nice to see the Leafs put up a solid, complete effort against the Sabres, but I’ll settle for a sloppy win.

Yes, things are this bad.

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