A highly-anticipated re-match with the Buffalo Sabres did not disappoint. A wide-open affair, with plenty of scoring opportunities, great goaltending and highlight-reel hits kept the ACC fans thoroughly entertained throughout the night. A renewed commitment to generating traffic in front of the opposition net — a gameplan spoken of by Ron Wilson prior to the game — paid off en route to a hard-fought 3-2 victory. The task now is for the Leafs to continue this trend going forward.
1 ) The Leafs improve to 17-13-4, with one more game remaining (Friday, at NYI) before a short holiday break.
2 ) Nazem Kadri was a major factor in his first game back, playing a smart, energetic game and scoring what turned out to be the game-winning goal early in the 3rd. If he can consistently use his speed and creative instincts to create chances, while minimizing turnovers as he did tonight, he is sure to find a regular spot in the lineup.
3 ) The Leafs dominated the play early, outshooting the Sabres 12-6 in the first period. Many of those shots came with traffic in front, and good puck support enabled the Leafs to set up quick passing plays. Ryan Miller was, in word, fantastic in the early frame.
4 ) The 2nd period saw Toronto get into penalty trouble, with players going to the box on four consecutive occasions in the first 11 minutes. The latter two calls (an iffy one on Nikolai Kulemin and a delay of game on Tyler Bozak) gave the Sabres a 5-on-3, eventually resulting in Jason Pominville shot redirecting off Luke Schenn’s skate … just as the first penalty expired.
5 ) You’ve got to love the Leafs’ moxy. Despite a stream of penalties, which finally resulted in a PP goal against, the boys in blue were able to reclaim the momentum — and the lead. A gritty crease-crashing effort by the “sluggos” (Joe Bowen’s affectionate reference to Boyce and Crabb) resulted in an easy tap-in for David Steckel. The Leafs then took the lead on a much prettier goal, a beautiful Lupul-to-Kessel cross-ice feed. Is there a better combination in the league than those two right now?
6 ) Toronto fans endured a couple of scary moments in the 2nd period. Early in the frame, Phil Kessel got his feet tangled with Pominville and appeared to be in considerable pain in the penalty box. Later, John-Michael Liles was flattened by a thunderous hit courtesy of Paul Gaustad and headed straight to the locker room. Thankfully, both players remained in the game no worse for the wear.
7 ) If the story of the 1st was Miller, the story the rest of the way was James Reimer. The Sabres outshot the Leafs 19-12 in the 2nd and 17-7 in the 3rd. All told, Reimer stopped 40 of 42 tonight … the exact number of saves he made against L.A. on Monday. He’s back.
8 ) The teams traded goals early in the 3rd. Derek Roy took advantage of a lazy turnover (next to the penalty kill, preventable turnovers have been the bane of the Leafs’ existence) to tie the game. Moments later, Kadri wristed the eventual winner past Miller to restore the lead for good.
9 ) The numbers won’t show it, but the Leafs’ powerplay was very good tonight despite an 0-for-5 result. They moved the puck, generated plenty of traffic, and showed a commitment to the one-timer.Â The Sabres’ penalty kill, quite simply, was a shot-blocking machine.
10 ) Have to love the way Kessel hustled to beat out what looked to be a sure icing in the last minute of play. His use of the slapshot — most notably on the powerplay — was good to see also. Hopefully he incorporates it into his game a bit more as the season progresses, if for no other reason than to give opposition goaltenders one more thing to think about.
10b ) Sure sounded like the ACC was rocking tonight. For all the talk of how quiet the place can be, all it takes to get the fans in the stands into it is a consistent, inspired effort and a winning brand of hockey. The Leafs had both tonight.