For the life of them, the Leafs can’t put together a pair of ROWs for their burning boat. They still don’t have two consecutive regulation-overtime wins since November 19, but they do have a three-game winning streak underway thanks to their ninth shootout win of the season. Given their ROW was already too far below their nearest competitors to catch up on the tiebreaker, the two points are what matter most.
Obviously, one thing that’s disappointing about the five games versus the Sabres is just how even/touch and go they’ve been. The Leafs clearly have more talent, and who doesn’t, but it was always an eventful game versus this Buffalo team. The Sabres entered this game scoring at a 1.64 goals per game rate. Buffalo has scored three goals in a game only 12 times this season, and four of those came against the Leafs.
The Leafs could’ve had a relatively easy victory here, I think, if they stayed awake to start the 2nd. The first was fine (led 1-0), and the final 12 minutes to the 2nd were pretty good (scored twice), but there was a terrible six-seven minutes to start the 2nd (conceded two goals) that put the Leafs behind 2-1.
The Leafs did outshoot the Sabres 39-31, though, so this win was never in doubt…
- Just about every shift from the first line in period 1 was of the dangerous variety. Kessel rang the iron with a rare slapshot and JvR redirected one right in front early in the period. After another good shift, it seemed only a matter of time. Sure enough, a stupid play by Erhroff gifted the puck to Kessel in the slot. Kessel’s 21st of the season made it 1-0 Leafs, which is also his eighth point in his last four games. Even on a shift starting in the neutral zone with just 17 seconds remaining, a clever play by Bozak to intentionally lose the draw and engage in a foot race for the puck led to a little bit of late pressure in the ozone.
- McClement played only 1:55 in the 1st, which was lowest on team (no penalties against). Holland played 4:44. Overall, Holland finished up with over 14 minutes of ice to McClement’s 7. If forced to pick, Holland’s line with Kulemin and Clarkson was arguably the Leafs’ most consistent through 60 mins tonight.
- An anatomy of a bad first 7 minutes to the 2nd period:
- Bozak wasn’t ready on the opening faceoff, as he got beat by his man and took a hooking penalty. A good penalty kill followed at least, with Mason Raymond preventing a goal with a nice play with his stick to take away a seam pass.
- Tyler Myers slipped in freely from the point after shedding Holland and found Matt Ellis open on the back post. Reimer nearly pulled off the save, but couldn’t quite squeeze his post. 1-1.
- A turnover high in the zone on the right board by Kadri, while the left defenceman (Rielly) pinched down even though the Leafs weren’t in safe possession of the puck, turned into a penalty shot (albeit a soft call on the Gardiner hold). A big save from Reimer there.
- Determined to fall behind to start this period, enter Cody Franson. Franson tried a fancy bounce pass off the boards and jumped ahead into the play, allowing Matt Moulson to intercept and walk in on Gleason and Reimer before absolutely ripping an unstoppable shot (off both posts, hard to tell it even went in, but the mesh below the bar did bulge) to make it 2-1.
- Thankfully, the Leafs mustered a quick response. Pete Holland intercepted a weak breakout chip pass by Mark Pysyk, pulled a few nice moves in tight around two Sabres and found an open Kulemin, who cut into slot and answered Moulson with his own ripper of a wrist shot, bar down. Clarkson supplied the screen. Kulemin tantalizes us with that pure release every now and again. And yeah, Holland never should’ve been sent down.
- A few shifts later, good work by Raymond and Kadri down low and a good finish by Rielly put the Leafs back ahead with nine minutes to go in the 2nd. Good awareness here from Rielly to identify an opportunity, creeping down from the point to beat Miller shortside high. Dreger’s favourite trade target, Nazem Kadri, picked up the primary apple after scooping the puck out of Miller’s kitchen and walking it around the net. Going into those dirty areas is key for Naz in getting his production going again.
- A phantom hook on Dion Phaneuf sent the Sabres to the powerplay to start the 3rd. Reimer gave up an easy one kind of like Bernier’s weak goal against Boston last night. This one was on Reimer. He didn’t seal his post completely and Hodgson found a hole.
- The Leafs actually outshot the Sabres in the third, but man did they look groggy throughout this period. They were outplayed for spells with the game on the line.
- Thank God for the Leafs finding a set of three shooters who can get the job done in the shootout: Lupul, JvR, and Bozak. All three scored in this SO, meaning Reimer only had to stop one. They now have nine wins in the shootout, which is 38% of their total wins (24). It has saved their bacon.
- So many of us were wrong to write off Tim Gleason. He did get beat wide once by Girgensons (wasn’t alone in that respect, as I think he did this three times tonight), but his underlying numbers suggest he’s been winning the possession battle better than any Leafs D the past few games. Just watching him, he’s actually standing up players at the blueline, and he is a determined, nasty individual down low.
- Nazem Kadri and Joffrey Lupul received the most shot attempts against when on the ice. The embarrassing part was that they spent two shifts pinned in by the Sabres’ 4th line in the first period and John Scott almost scored against the Leafs again during one of them.
The Leafs now sit in the first wildcard position with 53 points through 49 games. We’ll have to see where they stand after the upcoming two nights off, but I think this team can finally breathe again. Let’s keep ‘er going against the Habs on Saturday.
Leafs Sabres Boxscore
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