Inside Sabre Noise Headquarters on Wednesday, January 15, 2014.
Tim: All right gang – we’ve got another Sabres game to cover tonight! Rich, are you taking the picks and behind enemy lines pieces?
Me: Most definitely. Who is Buffalo playing again tonight?
Tim: That’s what I said.
Me: The Leafs?
Tim: Yes, Rich – the Toronto Maple Leafs. You feeling okay today?
Me: Well . . . it’s just that . . . Leafs fans and I – we don’t get along so well.
Tim: That’s because you made fun of their logo. The Maple Leaf is a big deal to them. Try to avoid that this time, and you’ll be fine.
Me: Yeah, I guess. <cough> Oh gee, look at <cough> that. I’m not <cough> feeling too <cough> well over here. Gonna have to <cough> find someone else <cough> to cover this one.
Tim: Rich, man up and knock it off.
Me: Don’t make me do this!
Tim: I want the Behind Enemy Lines piece done in an hour.
Tim: See ya.
Tonight’s Opponent: The Toronto Maple Leafs
Record: 20-16-10, 51 pts.
Standings: Eighth in Eastern Conference
Current Streak: Won two
The Toronto Maple Leafs are the greatest hockey team ever, and are so good that the Buffalo Sabres, shameful creatures that they are, should not even bother showing up for this game in the Air Canada Centre tonight.
Ha ha ha ha! Sorry about that – I was channeling my inner Leafs fan there. Don’t worry – I’ll shower once I get done writing this.
Seriously, the Leafs are a dangerous team, since they are clinging to the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference right now. Expectations – and emotions – run high in Toronto, so if this team doesn’t make the playoffs, I expect every single player, coach, and person working in the front office to be fired. Nay, executed. They take their hockey that seriously up there.
The problem is, as much as the Leafs want to keep their winning ways alive, this team really isn’t that good right about now. The Leafs are 5-4-1 in their last ten games, are 8-10-4 on the road this year, and have been outscored by 14 goals on the season thus far. They have allowed goaltender Jonathan Bernier to face 1124 shots so far this season – 4th most in the NHL. (C’mon, Toronto: you know it’s bad when the Sabres have allowed LESS shots on goal.) There’s rumors that coach Randy Carlyle has lost the locker room, that his squad is just tuning him out, all of which has led to some people questioning whether he should be fired. There’s rumors swirling about whether the Leafs are considering the possibility of trading young talent such as Nazem Kadri and Jake Gardiner.
Man, it’s quite the circus in Toronto.
Inconsistent play and injuries have really been the proverbial thorns in the Leafs’ sides during the first half of this season. According to Carlyle,
That’s the most frustrating part for our hockey club has been that we haven’t been able to achieve that [competing] with any consistency for  games. And that’s frustrating for the coaching staff, that’s for sure.
Carlyle’s terrible speaking skills aside, you need only look at the Leafs’ record to see how uneven their play has been. Following up a huge win over Detroit in the Winter Classic with an absolute 7-1 spanking at the hands of the Rangers? At home? Oof. Of course, the fact that injuries have plagued the team factors heavily into their inconsistent play. Toronto is still without center Dave Bolland (ankle) and forward Trevor Smith (broken hand), just recently got Tyler Bozak back from an oblique injury, and have had to work around injuries to Joffrey Lupul, David Clarkson and Phil Kessel at various points this season.
To which I say – and I mean this from the bottom of my heart – “Wah, Leafs fans.”
- Peter King of Sports Illustrated declared this on Monday: “The best color on any uniform in all of sports: Toronto Maple Leafs blue.” Stick to football, Mr. King!
- Bozak has scored five goals and eleven points in the seven games since he returned from injury.
- The Sabres and Leafs have already played four times this season, with each team winning twice at home. Keep that in mind when you head over to my fan picks post later today!