Game in 10: Game #31, Sabres 5 vs. Leafs 4 (SO)
True to form, tonight’s tilt in Buffalo was fast paced, exciting, and goal-heavy. Getting three points in a back-to-back situation is a respectable outcome, although an early two goal lead put the Leafs in a position to close out four points that they failed to capitalize on.
1. It was surprising to see Reimer get both starts in this back-to-back set. Recently, Carlyle had gone on record saying that Scrivens was currently playing better between the two tenders. Granted, Scrivens has lost and Reimer has won since then, but you would think this statement of faith would indicate a more even workload in a busy schedule going forward. Instead, it looks like Reimer will be given a(nother) chance to take the reins and run with them. He looked a bit shaky on a few of the goals tonight and in the shootout.
2. Right off the bat, Orr goes after Kaleta, and McClaren throws down with Scott. Kaleta’s owed his dues as most in the league know, although this dose of punishment by the Sheriff resulted in a 4 minute double minor’s worth of penalties to kill. Toronto has not allowed their penalized rambunctiousness to cost them very often lately, as the penalty kill, also known as Jay McClement, continues to come up big when it matters. This included a critical kill that spanned the junction of the third period and overtime.
3. In line with the agitating and annoying persona that the Sabres have misguidedly taken on this season, Ott took a dumb penalty after jawing with Phaneuf for a whole shift. Flozak made Ott pay with a powerplay goal off a quick feed from Kessel and has quietly put up points in four straight games.
4. So it’s safe to assume that you could put the stick boy with Kadri and still get production from that line. One noticeable side effect of Kadri’s skill is that it gives his linemates the confidence and swagger to make creative plays of their own. This has been made clear as Frattin, MacArthur, Lupul and Kulemin have all looked at their offensive best this season when skating with Kadream.
5. That being considered, do you put Lupul with Grabovski and Frattin when he returns from his suspension? This would truly give the Leafs three scoring lines, and Lupul’s presence would definitely help Grabovski find the scoresheet with some more regularity. It probably won’t happen, but it would behoove Toronto to give Grabovski, who you could see was pressing tonight, a chance on a line with one of JvR, Kessel or Lupul.
6. Jake Gardiner‘s presence on the ice is very noticeable when he’s on his game, as he was tonight. He’s still not at his best, with some hesitation and misplays evident in his game. But Gardiner at 90% is still an offensive catalyst, as he was directly involved in both the second and third goals along with a number of scoring chances.
7. In fact, all four goals were slick, well-executed beauties. Toronto’s top nine forwards are a comparatively skilled group and as their game hits midseason form it will lead to nights like tonight. However, this was also the case in the last few years (namely many pretty goals from the MGK line and Kessel) and it could never truly compensate for the team’s other shortcomings. Now, two talented net presences in the form of JvR and Lupul with solid defense to boot has given this team a very different dynamic.
8. With the Foligno goal there was the creeping sensation that this would be just another one of those games in Buffalo. The Sabres pour it on, the crowd is roaring, and the Leafs wilt. The fourth goal at the onset of the third fit right in with this all-too-familiar script.
9. But the difference lay in how this incarnation of the Leafs responded to the unwelcome adversity. There was no hint that they’d lay down, as the took it to the home team for the remainder of the third period. Despite playing their second game in two nights, the squad showed fight and determination – in conjunction with some sloppy miscues defensively.
10. An exciting third period and overtime bled into a mildly entertaining shootout. Grabovski made an appearance but not a difference, as this night’s skill competition went to the Sabres.
These three points have kept the Leafs in the thick of the playoff race in the East. They will need to continue to pile on the points in hopes of separating themselves from the pack. With Lupul due back in short order, it will be exciting and rewarding to see this Toronto team at full force for an extended period of time.