The Toronto Maple Leafs got the desired result with an overtime winner from John Tavares, but there is lots of work ahead to fix what ails them as they try to establish a team identity.

Your game in ten:

1.  While the shot clock favoured the Maple Leafs for much of the game — Toronto was credited with 56% of the shots on goal — it wasn’t hard to see that there was a lack of threat or danger on the shots, as the shots were largely from the perimeter. While the Leafs controlled the shots-for (11-8 in the 1st, 12-11 in the 2nd, 13-9 in the 3rd), they hardly generated any high-danger chances (0-6 in the 1st, 2-3 in the 2nd, 1-6 in the 3rd). Three high danger chances at even strength over the course of an entire game is not a recipe for success. Both teams played each other the night before, and with speed/skill being the Leafs biggest asset, the second half of back-to-back games usually end up being games that are a bit more of a grind, which doesn’t really suit the character of the team.

Getting inside to the slot and inner slot with the puck on their stick, and/or funnelling pucks from a non-scoring area to scoring areas, are elements that this team will need to work at. A lot of that comes down to fighting through contact with the puck on your stick and taking some physical abuse to get inside when you don’t have the puck.

2.  Defensively, the Leafs still have holes that don’t look like they can solve internally. They still don’t have the personnel to stop cycles, and there were a number of occasions where Buffalo was able to play with speed along the boards. There simply wasn’t much that the Leafs could throw at them in the way of trying to stop it.

Toronto’s main objective is to keep play to the outside and weather the storm by trying to limit passes from there to the home plate area, but that wasn’t the case last night. The other main area of weakness is stopping players from getting to the net. At times, players are able to force their way into the critical areas of the ice with impunity and it’s making things too easy for their opponents. High-end teams will exploit this weakness. It’s up to the players to commit to imposing their will on the game in a more physical manner by legally interfering with the opposition and by getting their feet and sticks in the way of oncoming opponents.

3.  While they’re happy with the win, it was largely on Frederik Andersen to keep the Leafs in the game — especially in the early going, as the Sabres were able to generate a good amount of scoring chances to start the game.

Andersen was really good tonight and the team’s first star. After a slow start to the year, he’s been honing his game and showing no signs of slowing down.

One outstanding save that looked like it might be called back was this one on Sheary:

4.  Despite some curious isolated shifts provided by the broadcast, William Nylander had a good game on both sides of the puck, was playing with authority when the puck was on his stick, looked puck-hungry on the forecheck, and was regularly tracking back as the first forward all night. This provided disruptions against Buffalo’s attack and support for the defenceman.

Alec mentioned Nylander’s need to change up his creativity on his breaks in alone in yesterday’s review. Another area that Nylander continues to add to his repertoire is his ability to drive inside and get better looks at the net from in-close. While he might be called a perimeter player by some, his ability to make plays into the scoring areas for his linemates are debatably the best on the team, and he ranks as one of the best in the league at that area of the game — an important one at that.

Nylander needs to continue this in order to maximize his potential of being a 30+ goal scorer, to go along with his playmaking ability.

5. The Johnsson-Matthews-Nylander line was up against Buffalo’s second and third line most of the night, with some shifts against the first line – they were not really hard matched to a large degree. This is something that Sheldon Keefe will probably be a bit more flexible with than Mike Babcock in that he won’t try for hard matches at forward. Trying to get a matchup forward group or defence pairing that he can trust vs. the defence-by-committee approach he seems to want to take.

6. Pierre Engvall was a stand-out player for the Leafs tonight. He flashed his high-end speed on a number of occasions and was able to start and keep cycles going in what was a very good game, overall, from the fourth line.

Engvall’s size/speed combination, and his somewhat usual patterns of play, are things we’ve been touting as a potential benefit for a team with a number of players that play varying levels of — mostly — the same brand of hockey. At times, Envgall can perform centre duties and allow Gauthier to play below the puck, while providing defensive support without cheating. This helps to keep plays alive and extend possessions. It would be interesting to see Engvall get some reps in the top six to see if he can create a different look than what the Leafs currently have. Engvall has a good feel for how big his reach is and can use a bit of deception to curl and shoot around opposing players with a heavy shot, which routinely catches goalies off guard and creates rebounds. He’s been able to beat goalies from far out near the tops of the circles at the AHL level, but we’ll wait and see if that is the case in the NHL.

7.  Another nice shot in the arm for the Leafs is Engvall’s ability to use his speed/size/reach on the penalty kill to great effect. The Leafs’ penalty kill is perfect since he’s taken a spot on the second penalty kill unit — an area they were desperate to upgrade on. He provides much of what Kapanen can do by filling lanes and hurrying up plays, while providing a quick-break threat that keeps defencemen honest when he’s on the ice. He also does a good job of reading plays and has better defensive fundamentals with a consistent work rate. This is an area on the team where Engvall can really take over and be a really big contributor with regard to overall wins and losses.

Having elite special teams is a major key to success, and while they have the personnel to have a dominant powerplay, the Leafs haven’t had a high-end penalty-killing unit in some time. With penalty kill schemes being mostly similar (but with small tweaks team-to-team), the onus is largely on the players to mentally always be a step ahead of the play, have a good measure of fearlessness, and be able to still make strong decisions at the tail end of a penalty kill while they run out of gas. His ability to reach around players with the puck on his stick on the offensive zone also pays dividends on the penalty kill and is a nice benefit for the Leafs to have, given that no other player has this same physical advantage.

8.  The Leafs defence pairings continue to be a work in progress, to put it mildly. The Morgan Rielly – Cody Ceci pairing has yet to show signs of cohesion, and there are causes for concern for the top-four D overall. The team lacks a trustworthy shutdown pairing, which is something that has been plaguing the team for a few seasons now.

The Jake Muzzin – Justin Holl pairing did well against the 2nd/3rd lines last night, playing defence by spending some time in the ozone, and it will be interesting to see how the coaching staff starts to deploy them going forward.

9.  The Dermott / Barrie pairing moved the puck adequately, which showed up in the raw shot attempts for/against totals, but they were caved in with high-danger scoring chances against (0-7!), which isn’t good enough.

10John Tavares’ line had their lunch handed to him by the Jack Eichel line, who put together two pretty dominant performances in back-to-back nights and looked incredible at points throughout the game. There were zero high-danger chances for, and five against, while Tavares was on the ice, but he had a great OT winner that covered up some shifts that were forgettable. Mitch Marner can’t come back soon enough.

Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts – Maple Leafs vs Sabres

Toronto Maple Leafs vs Buffalo Sabres - Game 28

Game Highlights: Leafs 2 vs. Sabres 1 (OT)