The Leafs play in their home opener tonight against the Buffalo Sabres. Puck drops at 7:00 pm EST.
Here are four factors that could stand in their path to victory:
1) The Air Canada Centre hasn’t been the easiest place for the Leafs to play in recent memory. Two seasons ago there there was the infamous “Wafflegate” incident and last season ended with chants for the Blue Jays. However, in a shortened NHL season, there simply isn’t enough ground to crack the playoffs without a healthy home record so fan support is absolutely critical. How do the denizens of Leafs Nation treat the team?
They love the Leafs! A mid-third period “Go Leafs Go!” chant sealed the deal! Although the home team lost, they showed plenty of energy and should have actually won. No reason to complain here.
2) Ben Scrivens will make his second start of the season. He wasn’t exactly sharp in his game, misplaying the puck and finding himself out of position several times. It didn’t really matter, however, as the Leafs were playing against a fairly weak team in the Montreal Canadiens. In comparison, the Sabres represent a much stronger opponent. We’ll likely get a better sense of Scrivens’ true potential after tonight. How does he fare?
I was expecting a stronger challenge from the Sabres, but the Leafs dominated this match-up in every manner but the final score. Scrivens cannot really be blamed for either goal, however. Both came off unfortunate breaks. This question remains open.
3) Special teams were prominent in the Leafs first game of the season. They scored two goals on the power play and allowed one on the penalty kill. A weak penalty kill plagued the team for most of last season while their power play was respectable for the most part. How do the team’s special teams play out tonight?
It’s safe to say a weak power play cost the Leafs this game. They were unable to connect on a prolonged 5-3 towards the end of the first period and I’m sure this sapped some of their energy/momentum. Buffalo gave them plenty of chances, however, taking 12 penalties on the night. Kadri managed a late power play goal, but it was too late by this time.
4) Nazem Kadri put many of his critics on notice after a strong performance against the Canadiens. He’s currently pivoting the third line between James van Riemsdyk and Leo Komarov, but the trio played like a second line unit at times. Can we expect a repeat performance from Kadri and the boys?
Kadri really stood-out on the night and has been promoted to the second line for tonight’s game against the Penguins as a reward.
Bonus Question: The Leafs just rewarded first line winger Joffrey Lupul with a five-year contract extension. Does he show some love in return?
He tried and almost put one by Ryan Miller, but only Kadri was going to beat Miller this night.
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