Jonathan Bernier turned in a stellar performance but the Leafs lost 2-1 in a shootout in their first visit to Buffalo this season.

Every season Maple Leafs fans hold out hope their team will start winning games in Buffalo.  Not yet Toronto, not yet.  Even fuelled by an overhaul in personnel and coaching staff this year’s iteration of the Leafs fell short in their first attempt of the campaign.

The Leafs got off to a quick start as P.A. Parenteau tipped in a goal a minute and a half into the first frame.  Parenteau’s not seeing much ice early under Babcock as he has been relegated to the fourth line, albeit with a smattering of powerplay duty thrown in.  It is the right call by Babcock based on current merit and Parenteau’s relatively one-dimensional offensive game.  However, this was one of a handful of “free wallet” signings made by the Leafs summer that rebuilding fans hoped would be converted into at least a mid-round pick.

Parenteau still has the offensive capabilities to put up the numbers that would move his value into that ballpark.  However, to do so he would need to receive a significant bump in ice time, to the detriment of the team’s defensive effort and current focus on smart systemic play.  Barring injuries this looks unlikely thus far into the season.  Babcock’s (justified) focus on putting forth the best Maple Leafs team possible will likely negate any value Parenteau could have had at the deadline.

Partly due to score effects and partly due to one of their weaker offensive games of the season Toronto proceeded to get outshot by Buffalo over the remainder of the period.  Setting the trend for the evening was Jonathan Bernier’s solid play.  Bernier has been in conversation with Babcock about his weak starts and overall play recently.  It showed.  The Leafs tender was at his best tonight: controlling rebounds and emitting the calming effect that defined him in his first season with Toronto.

Despite getting outshot a la Carlyle-era there were still very noticeable differences in exactly how this iteration of the Maple Leafs went about getting outplayed.  The energetic forecheck, smart breakouts and interference-not-interference that are trademarks of the Detroit Red Wings were very much on display.  Moreover, there were many instances of Leafs players being well-positioned to block shooting lanes or tie up the shooters’ sticks.  There was an especially notable sequence on Buffalo’s first powerplay with the only chance of note being a Matt Moulson shot from a sharp angle due to the proficiency of Toronto’s team defense.  A far cry from the “swarm and scramble” days of yesteryear.

The Leafs continued to play with fire with their one-goal lead resting precariously on Jonathan Bernier’s shoulders.  The second frame was slightly more even as the Leafs pushed to widen their lead.  One fierce shift from the JVR-Kadri-Komarov line emphasized the potential of the trio as the combination of determination and skill lead to sustained offensive pressure and Nazem drawing a penalty.  However, the third period bore more of a resemblance to the disorganized Leafs of previous seasons as tight sticks and nerves prompted old habits to resurface.  Despite a veritable onslaught of shots, Bernier almost managed to steal one for Toronto.  Unfortunately a late Kane marker after a blatant missed call (Kane high-sticking Dion Phaneuf for what should have been a double minor) made this an all-too-familiar scene for the Leafs in Buffalo.

There was a pond hockeyesque overtime with a number of close calls for Toronto before the Leafs were defeated in a shootout.  This was a redemption game for Bernier and an example of how a team can get outshot without looking completely clueless defensively as there continues to be silver linings in the early stretch of Mike Babcock’s first season with the Leafs.

Player Notes

Peter Holland  One would think the biggest beneficiary of the Tyler Bozak injury would be Peter Holland.  In fact, many hoped for a Bozak trade over the summer so the second line center spot could be Holland’s to run with.  Right now he is firmly behind Kadri, Bozak and Spaling on Mike Babcock’s depth chart and has done nothing to warrant an extended look in a more significant role.  This is an important season for Holland to prove his worth and cement a long-term role with this club.  It has not been a good start for the twenty-four year old, but there’s a lot of hockey left to play.

Martin Marincin – Marincin was featured in the lineup tonight with Jake Gardiner nursing an injury.  Thus far the former Oilers blueliner has looked passable in spurts surrounded by large stretches of sloppiness.  Giveaways, poor shot attempts and a general awkwardness on the ice have characterized Marincin at this point in his Leafs career.

Matt Hunwick – Hunwick had a monster game in over twenty-seven minutes of ice time.  Babcock’s confidence in Hunwick continues to grow, reinforcing the notion that the head coach is refreshingly astute when it comes to player evaluation and roster decisions.  Hunwick dished out five hits and blocked five shots to go along with the three shots he took himself, displaying aptitude at both ends of the ice.  He dropped Ryan O’Reilly in overtime with ease and also leaned in smartly for a shot at the winner himself.

Joffrey Lupul – Lupul continues to feature on an effective line with Winnik and Spaling that should insulate his deficiencies defensively.  Said deficiencies were noticeable on a couple of bad passes tonight, as Joffrey still looks a step slow and a second off from his peak play of a few seasons ago.  Still, Lupul puts in the effort. After making a glaring mistake in this game, he hustled back to take Sam Reinhart to the net on the subsequent Buffalo rush.

Jonathan Bernier – Bernier did his best to shut the door on the creeping notion that there may be a goaltender controversy brewing in Toronto.  A bad game tonight would have certainly given Reimer a longer leash but Bernier is obviously the golden boy for this franchise.  Tonight he showed the skills that gave him this designation in a sparkling thirty-four save effort.  A bounce-back season for Bernier is not out of the question if the Leafs continue to improve defensively under the tutelage of Mike Babcock.

All Situations Possession Statistics

leafs vs sabres

Shot Location Chart w/ home plate

Screen Shot 2015-10-22 at 12.34.17 AM

Toronto Maple Leafs vs Buffalo Sabres Boxscore

2M. HunwickD000023-0:003:4327:23
3D. PhaneufD000021-0:330:0717:30
15P. ParenteauR101101-0:330:009:37
16N. SpalingC00002160%0:004:1520:34
19J. LupulL000002-0:330:0414:43
21J. van RiemsdykL000-103-1:270:0020:31
23S. MatthiasC000001-0:002:2512:57
24P. HollandC00000036%1:170:1512:52
26D. WinnikC0000000%0:003:2418:39
28B. BoyesR000001-1:270:0011:25
33M. ArcobelloR00010138%1:270:3910:32
36S. HarringtonD000001-0:001:3916:58
40M. GrabnerR0111000%0:004:1312:49
43N. KadriC000-10233%0:430:0020:44
44M. RiellyD000-102-1:275:0525:07
46R. PolakD011021-0:003:3820:33
47L. KomarovC000-103-0:330:4518:13
52M. MarincinD000101-0:001:4815:53