LGD – Game 19: Leafs @ Sabres – Goodbye Horses

“Would you fire me? I’d fire me.”

Here’s our LGD for a game on February 21st, 2013. Why link to a preview of a random game from a shortened season? Because that game happened to be the Sabres’ first game with a new coach since 1997. Lindy Ruff was in Buffalo for 14-and-a-half seasons. His successor, Ron Rolston, lasted 51 games. Rolston accumulated a 19-26-6 record, a 71-point pace over 82 games.

So Ted Nolan is back in Buffalo. He won the Jack Adams Award in 1997 coaching the Sabres, before leaving that offseason thanks to a contract dispute. Other than a brief stint with the New York Islanders for two seasons, Nolan hasn’t been in the NHL. In his four NHL seasons as a coach, Nolan has won 54.1% of games where Dominik Hasek was his goaltender, and 47.7% of the other ones. Unfortunately for him, Dominik Hasek is not his starting goaltender again in Buffalo, which is too bad.

The Sabres do have an excellent goaltender in Ryan Miller however, and he’ll look to keep up his early season hot streak against Toronto. For the second time in under a year, the first game by a new Sabres coach is going to come against the Maple Leafs.


  Sabres Leafs
Corsi Close % 39.0% (30th) 41.5% (29th)
5v5 GF/60 1.51 (30th) 2.07 (18th)
5v5 GA/60 2.77 (26th) 1.92 (7th)
PDO 98.3 (23rd) 103.0 (4th)
  Sabres Leafs
5v4 GF/60 5.16 (22nd) 7.57 (9th)
5v4 SF/60 49.0 (22nd) 58.8 (8th)
4v5 GA/60 6.37 (15th) 4.88 (6th)
4v5 SA/60 70.1 (29th) 60.5 (26th)
Penalty Differential -10 (27th) -10 (27th)

via Extra Skater and NHL.com

How much does it suck to be Ryan Miller this season? Check out his ranking among 26 NHL starting goalies with at least 10 starts this season:

Winning percentage: .214 (26th)
Goals against average: 3.28 (24th)
Save percentage: .916 (13th) 

I’m actually somewhat surprised that his save percentage has been that low, but Miller has trended towards either extreme this season with his save percentage. In his 14 appearances, only one time has Miller posted a save percentage between .880 and .920, either playing well enough for the Sabres to lose by one, or playing poorly enough that the team’s inability to score goals wouldn’t make a difference anyway. By puck-possession metrics, the Sabres are the only team in the NHL that you can say is objectively worse than the Toronto Maple Leafs.

On paper, this was a team that was going into a rebuilding season, and they have so far performed well below any reasonable expectation that they fired everybody in the organization anyway. Long-time general manager Darcy Regier is out, with a former legend Pat Lafontaine rejoining the organization to search for a suitable replacement. Whoever that is will have the uneasy task of being the guy that has to trade Ryan Miller, who has been the team’s biggest piece since the lockout year. 

It’s not a pretty sight. Tonight and tomorrow will feature games between the 30th and 29th worst teams in the league at generating and preventing shots at 5-on-5, games between teams whose last contest erupted in a brawl. Must-watch television? 


Oh yeah, one of the teams is without their top three centremen. Here’s the latest update from Daily Faceoff:

Mason Raymond – James van Riemsdyk – Phil Kessel
Joffrey Lupul – Trevor Smith – David Clarkson
Carter Ashton – Jay McClement – Nik Kulemin
Frazer McLaren – Jerred Smithson – Colton Orr 

Carl Gunnarsson – Dion Phaneuf
Jake Gardiner – Cody Franson
Mark Fraser – Paul Ranger

At some point you have to question why the team continues to have Morgan Rielly on the roster, despite him rarely playing. Rielly played 11:07 against Minnesota, was scratched against Boston, and played 12:55 against New Jersey. Those last two games, since Mark Fraser returned, are his lowest ice times on the season by about a minute-and-a-half.

As for the Leafs up front, well, Trevor Smith is back up and in a scoring role now, taking over the hole in the lineup left by Nazem Kadri’s three-game suspension. At centre, the Leafs are icing a career winger, an AHLer, a two-way centre and a one-way centre whose defensive abilities do not even come close to covering for the fact that he doesn’t score goals where others would. Smith has mostly played with McLaren and Orr this season, and he’s got some decent speed and a shot, so I’m happy he’s taking over 2C duties. 


And, for the home Sabres… 

Matt Moulson – Cody Hodgson – Drew Stafford
Zemgus Girgensons – Tyler Ennis – Steve Ott
Ville Leino – Marcus Foligno – Brian Flynn
John Scott – Cody McCormick – Corey Tropp 

Christian Ehrhoff – Mark Pysyk
Henrik Tallinder – Tyler Myers
Jamie McBain – Rasmus Ristolainen 

The team has scratched youngsters Nikita Zadorov, Johan Larsson and Mikhail Grigorenko. Apparently one of the knocks on Nolan on Long Island was that he never played his young players, opting for veterans that would lose by less. 

The best skater on the Sabres is unequivocally Christian Ehrhoff, who has been on the ice for 36.6% of his team’s 5-on-5 ice-time, 40.2% of the unblocked shots for and just 32.6% of the unblocked shots against. He’s the difference between his team being “moderately competent” when he’s on the ice and “historically bad” when he’s not. Otherwise, the offensive ability of Cody Hodgson and the developing two-way ability of young Latvian Zemgus Girgensons is about all this team has to offer other than its goaltending.

Rolston preferred to use his second line against top lines at home, and we’ll see if Nolan opts to switch that to power-on-power. Given that neither Moulson, Hodgson nor Stafford are particularly adept at possessing the puck, they aren’t really suited to shutting down opposing teams’ top lines. 


Jonathan Bernier against Ryan Miller. I’m sure neither broadcast will mention the fight they got into during the preseason, even though it will almost assuredly have no effect on how things play out tonight. 


This tweet inspired a new section in our previews…

Who gets the greater share of Corsi Close events during the next two days? The Leafs have been better through much of the season, but they’re depleted up front.

The Leafs and Sabres drop the puck at 7:00 p.m., provided the Leafs have somebody in the circle to take the faceoff. The game will be on Sportsnet Ontario.