The Toronto Maple Leafs fell to a stronger Buffalo team in the second half of a preseason home-and-home on Saturday.

Player notes, post-game quotes, and game highlights below.


Player Notes

Michal Neuvirth – He couldn’t do anything about the first goal; he had a fighting chance on the Buffalo power-play goal, but it wasn’t exactly one you’d hang on the goaltender. It’s pretty obvious why he’s started over 250 games in the league while winning more than he’s lost and posting multiple 20-plus start, .915+ seasons — he’s positionally sound, calm, and efficient in the net, with the reflexes/speed/agility to call on when he needs it, and he absorbs pucks well.

Neuvirth appears to have the mental makeup to back up in the league, as he showed by posting decent numbers when he was surpassed by and played sparingly behind Braden Holtby in Washington. It’s really all a matter of whether he can emerge from the rest of camp healthy and with some more good performances under his belt. If it’s really close by the end of camp between Neuvirth and Hutchinson, Frederik Andersen and Hutchinson do have a pre-existing relationship that could mean the tiebreaker goes to the signed incumbent. A waiver claim could trump both depending on how the rest of camp goes and who shakes free around the league.

Frederik Gauthier – Thought John Tavares summed Goat up well after the game: “He’s got a good understanding of where to be and where to go. He’s got a good feeling of who he is as a player and continues to be comfortable with that and grows in confidence. He doesn’t look quick, but he always seems to be in the way and he matches everyone stride for stride, and he’s a tough guy to push off the puck and defend. He continues to grow.”

There is no doubt Goat’s been a fastidious student of Barb Underhill and looks to have taken another step in his skating this camp. The big question is whether he can give the Leafs a little more offensively this year — he had three 10+ game pointless slumps last season and had just one shot on goal in the full seven-game Boston series. That isn’t going to cut it at Springtime. I’ve liked Nick Shore as well and he may have a little more touch to him offensively.

Jason Spezza – Personally prefer him on the wing. Without needing to keep the motor running all shift, he can make some plays off the wall while taking the right-side draws. Spezza can still get from A to B in short bursts and could fill in fine here and there at C, but he doesn’t have an engine that runs well enough anymore to play crease-to-crease from shift-to-shift. Those duties look better reserved for Goat or Shore, at least based on what we’ve seen so far.

The presumed fourth line looked good for the most part in this game. Goat (or Shore) and Moore can play 200 feet; Spezza brings a veteran presence who can win draws and contribute on offense. It’s a line that looks like it could handle some defensive zone starts and help free up the top lines a little bit.

Trevor Moore – A constant menace for the Sabres with his puck hunting and ability to push the pace, he looks ready to take another step this season — and that could include some more time shorthanded, where he scored a nice goal in the third after driving in off the wing. He has the motor and skill set to do the job if trusted with it. He played a regular role there for the Marlies, racking up four shorthanded points in the AHL last season. Theoretically, he’s having his spot on the team challenged by Petan and Aberg in this camp, but he’s more competitive, courageous, and effective no matter where he slots in the lineup.

Hudson Elyniuk – He’ll be a good addition to the Marlies down the middle this season, assuming he makes the step up from Newfoundland full time after a big playoff run with the Growlers (15 points in 16 games) last Spring. He’s effective causing havoc on the forecheck and takes his 6’5, 200+ pound frame to the front of the net consistently, drawing the ire of Sabres defenders throughout the game.

Elyniuk was a late bloomer in junior and naturally draws attention as a 6’5 center in the system; both he and Riley Woods (AHL contracts) are players the Leafs scouts were familiar with from their time scouting the Spokane squad Filip Kral was drafted from. A good camp from Elyniuk — beginning with the rookie tournament, now capped with a shoutout from coach Babcock for his performance in this game.

Jake Muzzin – Tyson Barrie – They were at fault for a couple of goals in the third; Barrie left a forward alone in behind him for a free breakaway, and Muzzin coughed up a puck below the goal line that led to the game-winner. Muzzin putting a Sabre into the bench and it leading to a shorthanded rush and a goal was the most exciting sequence of preseason so far, though. Nothing to get too worked up about here, obviously; as Babcock put it: “The bottom line is they’re good players. They’ve got to get better for us and they will get better. We need them to be real good offensively and real good defensively. They’ve got some work to do.”

Justin Schmaltz / Justin Holl – When Babcock talked after the game about having no clarity on defense, it’s definitely in part referring to the fact that neither has exactly taken the bull by the horns at RD yet, and neither has Timothy Liljegren, who doesn’t look ready. We can’t rule out Ben Harpur making Babcock’s team for size + PK reasons, shifting Sandin to the right if they choose to go that way, or Martin Marincin playing on the right… but of the three right-handed bottom-pairing candidates mentioned, Schmaltz — giveaway for the goal against in this game notwithstanding — has been a little bit more impactful skating and moving the puck. It’s going to come down to what Babcock wants out of his final RD; Schmaltz is ultimately a sheltered third-pairing puck mover, and whether Babcock wants someone with more of a defensive reputation, PK utility and size/bite remains to be seen.


Mike Babcock Post Game: Sabres 5 vs. Leafs 3

On the team’s performance and the individual standouts:

It was an interesting game. I thought we really started good. I thought they took over. I thought we had a real strong third, gave up the breakaway, and then gave up… I don’t like either of those goals, the way we played them, for the winner.

But I liked a lot of the things we did. I thought the Elyniuk kid — who I didn’t have any feel for — played a strong game for us and himself. The D thing isn’t sorted out one bit, to be honest with you. I am more confused after the game tonight. I thought Moore was real good; Goat, Spez — that line was good.

On it taking longer for someone to emerge on defense:

The way I look at it, I am a pretty patient guy. We’ve got four more. We just keep plugging away. What usually happens is that guys who think they are good enough to play get better. Guys who don’t think they’re good enough to play get worn out. We are just going to keep grinding and figure it out.

On Neuvirth’s performance:

I thought he was good.

On the performance of the Moore, Gauthier, Spezza line:

I just thought that they had a role, whether it be killing, or Spez on the power play. I thought Mooresy was real good. I thought Goat was real strong. I thought Spez did his thing. To me, we had faceoffs on either side. I liked that we could use them, if that makes any sense. You weren’t scared about them at all. They turned the puck over a little bit too much, but other than that, I think they were good.

On the team needing to take strides defensively:

We now are going to look at our group here tomorrow. The coaching staff and Kyle will get it sorted out. We’ve got to take a step big time. We need our practices this week to be way better; what I mean by that is put more good players together, and we’ll be better. We can take a step and get more details done.

We’re halfway through camp and I’d like to win every game, but it’s really not what it is about as much as it’s about the process. The process has been good so far. You’d always like things to be clearer quicker, but they aren’t.


Game Highlights: Sabres 5 vs. Leafs 3