Tonight the Toronto Maple Leafs face the Buffalo Sabres for the second time this season. In the first game, the Leafs lost 2-1 at home despite outplaying the Sabres. Now they’re hoping for a reverse of fortune in Buffalo. Puck drops at 7:00 pm EST.
Here are four factors that could stand in their path to victory:
1) Although he took the lost, James Reimer was easily the Leafs’ best player in Saturday night’s 5-2 beatdown at the hands of the New York Rangers. He played equally well in his season debut against the Pittsburgh Penguins, earning the win. Reimer’s recent successes are all the more important given the mediocre play of Ben Scrivens. If Reimer starts tonight and puts in another strong performance, he can increase his grasp on the #1 spot. Can he reclaim his former title?
The third goal was questionable, but Reimer otherwise looked spectacular in net, earning the 4-3 win in overtime. Expect him to make his third consecutive start tonight against the Washington Capitals. This will be his first home game of the season so it’ll be interesting to see how the Maple Leafs faithful greet him.
2) Jake Gardiner will likely find himself sitting in the press box tonight alongside Mike Komisarek, who’s out with a “freak” eye injury. At the same time, head coach Randy Carlyle took some responsibility for the recent poor play of captain Dion Phaneuf and his defensive partner Mike Kostka. He admitted to overplaying both players and promised to lessen their workload moving forward. How does all this “movement” affect the Leafs’ blueline? Will the largely forgotten Cody Franson be given a larger role to play?
As I called it, Franson came through big time for the Leafs. He collected one goal and one assist in only ten minutes of playing time. The guy has definite offensive upside so I still don’t understand why the team rarely relies on him. If captain Dion Phaneuf carries the big blast from the backend, then Franson comes with a nice, straight mini-slapshot that almost floats to the net. I guess the coaching staff sees something that keeps eluding me.
3) The struggles of Phil Kessel continue and now they’re gaining more critical attention than usual. For one, the always angry Toronto Star columnist Damien Cox called for the Leafs to trade Kessel in yesterday’s paper. In five games this season, Kessel has two assists, but it’s really goals that the team expects from him. Can Kessel come out of his funk and reclaim the fickle support of Leafs Nation?
Kessel collected one assist on the night and played over 23 minutes. He remains scoreless for the year, but he has been producing in other areas and continues to generate many offensive opportunities for the team. He’ll score soon – perhaps tonight against a suddenly weak Capitals?
4) On paper, Buffalo should be safe territory for the Leafs to play. Like Ottawa, there are always more Leafs fans in attendance than Sabres fans whenever the Boys in Blue & White visit. However, the Leafs’ struggles at the First Niagara Center are legendary. Will “home ice” advantage finally benefit the Leafs?
Both teams had their fair share of fans in attendance. I’ll give the edge to the Leafs, however, for the reaction of Leafs Nation after witnessing Matt Frattin’s buzzer beater game winner. Talk about second effort.
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