The Leafs are 1-1-0 after a 2-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres in the home opener despite a 35-20 shots advantage. The shot clock doesn’t tell the whole story, but this one was first and foremost about Ryan Miller.
1 – Didn’t take long to tango for the members of tonight’s fight card, John Scott and Colton Orr. How do you topple a 6’8 giant if you’re The Sheriff? A gut punch. Love or hate the role of the pure enforcer in the modern game, you had to feel good about Colton Orr and his moment tonight. After getting written off following a career-risking injury that turned into a demotion, he put in the work to get his speed and conditioning to a level where he could grab a place in Carlyle’s lineup. Then he earned the first big cheer of the season out of the ACC crowd with the win over Scott.
2 – A lucky deflection for the Sabres off the midsection of Cody Hodgson for their 1-0 goal. Just one of those.
3 – The Leafs sputtered on the first powerplay, struggling to gain the zone at first, but were much better with their zone entries for the rest and actually moved the puck pretty well once set up. I understand some of the criticism in the comments section during the game concerning the static positioning of the Leafs’ PP system, with Kessel idle on the left sideboard as opposed to rotating around the zone and getting different looks, but there were a lot of great chances with the man advantage tonight. The Sabres’ PK was all Miller, with great saves in tight on point blank chances from JvR in the first, Liles in the second, and Lupul in the third. He was also helped by some luck when Dion rang the pipe.
4 – I guess by now you have to expect someone from the Sabres to spaz when Ryan Miller gets touched (or grazed), even when out he’s out in the white paint like tonight. Not surprisingly it was Kaleta, who really should’ve paid for that mugging on Kessel. It’s hard to hold a guy accountable who’s weasel-y enough not to answer for his actions, but it’s worth taking a roughing penalty to me.
5 – Holzer could’ve made a better first impression in his NHL debut, I thought. Nerves were evident early and persisted late in the first as Holzer iced the puck with nobody nearby. If you were wondering where Gunnarsson was on the play, you should’ve been, but Holzer could’ve played that 3 on 2 on the Sabres’ second goal much better. Grabovski hauled back and picked up his man, and Holzer didn’t play the developing two on one very well, making the the decision to dive hopelessly at the puck carrier. The open man, Jason Pominville, took the pass and fired it through Scrivens’ legs. Carlyle did stick with Holzer, though, as he clocked 15 minutes while the other debuting Leaf, Mark Fraser, saw just eight tonight.
6 - Kulemin’s giveaway cost the Leafs on that play as well; a giveaway high in the zone that he should’ve gotten in deep led to an odd man break the other way. After failing to pick his man up in the slot for the lone goal against on Saturday… not the best of starts for Kuli.
7 – Nazem Kadri gets rewarded for being the best Leaf on the ice tonight as Carlyle put him out as the sixth man with the goalie pulled and he delivered with his second goal in the first two games. Kadri worked some magic with the puck tonight, stringing some beautiful passes, and was a dog after a bone without the disc. The third line was again the bright spot among the forwards (JvR could stand to hit the net more) and Carlyle rewarded them with more ice time later on in the game. I don’t think Kadri did one bad thing on the ice tonight and he did a heck of a lot right. He cracked 15 minutes of ice time and deserved even more.
7b – Phaneuf gets an honourable mention for best Leaf of the game. The Leafs allowed far too many odd man opportunities against tonight and Dion was the saviour on at least two of them. McClement quietly had a nice game as well, and nobody should have any problems with Ben Scrivens’ performance, who gave the team a chance and wasn’t at fault on either goal against.
8 – 28 and 27 minutes for Phaneuf and Kostka respectively in this one. Both responded admirably but you would like to see a little more timesharing.
9 – We’ll hope to see the top six get on the board on Wednesday. Other than Bozak’s PP marker against the Canadiens, the Grabovski and Kessel lines haven’t managed to break through as of yet. If the Leafs didn’t face the best of Miller tonight that might have been a different story.
10 – You have like the fight to the end, literally to the last second, regardless of the end result. There are so many moments you can look back on in this one and say, “how was that not in?” Just in the last minute alone, Kessel flicked the puck over the top of a mostly empty net and Kadri whiffed on a loose puck with a yawning cage in front of him (it may have not beaten the buzzer anyway). There’s lots to work on from this one from both offensive and defensive standpoints – Carlyle will hate the number of odd man chances against – but the effort level was unquestionable. The Leafs deserved better.