Carried by a few unexpected performances and a workmanlike effort from a lineup light on NHL regulars, the Maple Leafs won their second consecutive preseason game over the Buffalo Sabres by a score of 3-1 on Saturday.
As is customary in preseason, Buffalo was icing a decisively more skilled lineup than the Leafs in their home game of the back to back. With only one regular forward line dressed, the Leafs received some good performances from some on-the-cusp players and youngsters looking to make an impression.
After a poor opening shift, the Leafs took control the rest of the first period. The Rychel – Moore – Johnsson line, who impressed all night, started well early as avid forechecking created a quality chance for Moore in front. Five minutes into the first, a disruptive backcheck by Mitch Marner and some skilled neutral zone play by Tyler Bozak led to an odd-man possession in the offensive zone, with Nikita Zaitsev jumping up into the play to receive a cross-ice pass from Bozak. Zaitsev’s shot was stopped but landed right onto JVR’s stick for the easy tap-in.
Two good shifts by the Dominic Moore and Eric Fehr lines started the second period off well, with the Leafs leading 12-5 in shots after the first. Great vision by Carrick sprung Kapanen (who finished with a goal and an assist) on a partial breakaway to no avail.
Late in the second period, the Sabres tied it up off of an awkward play. Three Leafs were caught in a puck battle along the half boards before it squeaked out onto the stick of Rasmus Ristolainen for a shot that deflected top corner. The Sabres started to push more as the second period went on, and had slightly more of the shot and chance share in the middle frame.
The Leafs started the third period with a powerplay. Unusual for the Leafs, their second group featured two defensemen, with Connor Carrick taking up a spot on the left side, and the unit came through. Carrick took the puck in deep and chipped a backhand in on goal that could’ve counted as a shot or a bank pass. It ended up being the latter as the rebound went right to Kapanen for the 2-1 goal.
Toronto did well to minimize opportunities for the rest of the period as the Sabres pushed back. Once the goalies were pulled, the Leafs kept Buffalo to the outside and limited chances against. The game ended on a Soshnikov empty-netter with a little over a minute left.
- Andreas Johnsson stood out in this game, as did his line. The Swede is facing down an impossible feat in cracking this roster with the amount of depth on the wings, but he has put himself on the big club’s radar in this preseason with two good showings so far. Johnsson’s possession game and skill in the offensive zone were standouts; he moved the puck quickly and he wasn’t hesitant to battle.
- The same goes for Kerby Rychel, who at this point may be auditioning for all 31 teams given his waiver status. If we go by waiver considerations, it’s Leivo vs. Rychel for the extra forward spot, but with a strong enough preseason from Rychel, perhaps the Leafs would contemplate carrying 14 forwards to start the year. He showed the mix of aggression and skill he can bring and did it without winding up in the penalty box on Saturday. His effort level was certainly commendable as he was probably the best player on the best line of “non-regulars” on the night.
- The Leafs dressed most of one of their two soon to be regular powerplay units tonight (save for Carl Grundstrom in for Nazem Kadri). The unit of Gardiner – Bozak – Grundstrom – Marner – JVR gained the zone easily on multiple occasions. Without the big two shooting options of the other regular PP unit, they rely more on working the puck to the middle for deflections and side to side movement around the net, and created quite a few good opportunities that way on the night. The second unit, comprised of Rosen- Carrick – Johnsson – Kapanen – Rychel had trouble all night with zone entries. They moved puck well enough when set up, however, leading to some good chances, including the Kapanen goal.
- Calle Rosen had another solid night, finishing with 62% shot attempt share along with four shots on goal. He walked the line nicely on the Kapanen goal, looked more physically engaged and poised/confident than in game one, and generally looked like he belongs on an NHL ice surface. Interesting decisions lie ahead with Dermott and Borgman also turning some heads this preseason while gunning for Marincin and Carrick’s spots on the NHL roster. As the lineups start to resemble the NHL more than the AHL, a clearer picture should start to emerge. The same goes for the fourth line center battle; while Dominic Moore is very likely going to be the opening night 4C, Miro Aaltonen (and Babcock also mentioned Eric Fehr, for what it’s worth) is making a case. Babcock called that 4C competition, in particular, “clear as mud right now.”
- While previous indications were that the Leafs were going to carry 47 bodies late into preseason, Babcock hinted that the Leafs will trim the roster after Monday night’s game versus Montreal.