It was a great event and a bad result for the Maple Leafs in the Heritage Classic on Sunday evening.

Let’s start on a positive note: Two years ago yesterday, the league was shutting down, and in the darkest of moments during the lockdowns, it felt like this kind of community gathering around the sport and team was never going to return for the indefinite future. This was officially a Sabres home game — one hour north of Buffalo, one hour south of Toronto — but it was a great turnout at Tim Hortons Field for Leafs Nation, who never fail to show up for their team.

Unfortunately, the team didn’t get the job done for them on the ice.

Your game in 10:

1.  Similar to Anthony, I personally had this marked down as a Leaf loss from the jump. The wind, snow, and glare were going to be the ultimate equalizer in negating any skill difference between the two rosters, so goaltending then becomes the story, which no one in Leafs Nation could possibly feel good about right now. Add in the long history of the Sabres getting up for these games, the Leafs finding ways to lose them, and well…

2.  The 1-1 goal was certainly an example of, “It’s not only on the goaltender” (not that anyone reasonable was subscribing to that kind of black-and-white thinking). After a non-descript first period characterized by as many bobbled and over-skated pucks as completed passes (both ways), the Leafs went up 1-0 on a nice simple play off a faceoff win leading to an Ondrej Kase rebound goal.

The shifts immediately after goals for and goals against are so important within a game, and what did the Leafs do 40 seconds later? Timothy Liljegren misplayed it in the neutral zone leading to a break against, John Tavares didn’t keep his head on a swivel to take away the passing lane, and it’s a goal Petr Mrazek had no hope on.

3.  Timothy Liljegren deservedly finished at just 10:35 time-on-ice in this game. Before anyone accuses me of “big mistaking” him by claiming he shouldn’t play up the lineup much longer, there was another mistake earlier in the game — late in the first period — where he let Alex Tuch in completely free and clear after losing the middle of the ice, anticipating he could shoot up the wall if the puck broke the other way. He also took a penalty in the third period defending an oncoming rusher who chipped and chased in behind him.

It doesn’t matter how pretty the underlying numbers are; you can’t let good NHL forwards in behind you (or lose battles to them in front) as frequently as Liljegren does in these top assignments. And that’s not a knock on his potential in the league, as it’s not at all surprising for a rookie defenseman. He’d be perfectly suited on a bottom pairing where he can be spotted in for offensive zone starts with the top lines.

4.  After Auston Matthews gave the team a 2-1 lead with his 45th (a pretty soft goal by Craig Anderson), the 2-2 Buffalo goal was more of a horrible break than anything else. TJ Brodie played it awkwardly, but it was just a reflexive reaction kind of deal, with a horrible outcome. Not the break the Leafs needed when they’re already giving up enough through their own goaltending and defensive errors.

5.  The 3-2 goal was just a devastating one to give up by Petr Mrazek.

Mrazek was fine (even borderline good) for the first 40 minutes, but there were warning signs along the way in terms of the sketchiness of his rebound control and his tendency to lose his bearings in the net.

Hell, even watch him on the replay of his big glove save early in the third period — with his eyes, he’s initially reading a pass that isn’t there across to his right, and he’s deep in his net and out of position on the shot. He’s lucky Casey Mittelstadt didn’t choose blocker side over glove side.

6.  What can you even say at this point? It’s hard to create offense in a game like this, and Petr Mrazek goes and lets that third goal in.

Even if you have faith in Jack Campbell’s play rebounding, you typically need a second goalie at some point if you’re going anywhere in the playoffs, and Mrazek doesn’t even look like he can pinch-hit safely right now if the Leafs did have a reliable starter.

At a certain point, a team will collapse psychologically and lose structure defensively when goals like this continue to go in, and it can be hard to rediscover that confidence overnight. The Leafs need a reset in net, and it probably has to come from Campbell’s eventual return as well as some outside help.

7.  William Nylander’s third period was frustrating. He was too soft on the puck as the last man back on the 4-2 goal on the turnover to start the sequence, and then he did a loop around the net and had his stick off the ice while picking up no one defensively prior to the goal.

If I was Sheldon Keefe, I’d have had him nowhere near the ice surface the rest of the game. Turnovers happen, but to follow it up with disengagement at that stage in the game is unacceptable.

Sure enough, Nylander’s turnover — and failure to physically impede the player that was about to go down and score on the empty net — caused the 5-2 put-away goal, too. On both plays, it’s not even about the turnovers for me, which happen, especially in these conditions; it’s essentially giving up on the play right afterward that is so frustrating.

I get that he helps your comeback effort normally, but he wasn’t up to much in this game, and there has to be some accountability there.

8.  We really shouldn’t read too far into games that are played more for the spectacle in a unique environment and aren’t real life, but the Leafs were credited with zero high-danger chances and one total scoring chance in the third period at five-on-five, which is quite bad.

One of the few things the Leafs had going was their highly-effective puck pressure on the penalty kill, which created several odd-man rushes throughout the game. It might not even be an exaggeration to state that they legitimately looked their best in this game at 4v5, as it allowed them to simplify their game and play the counter-punch — capitalizing on bobbled pucks and misplays for fast breaks the other way — which works well in these environments where extra snow, glare, and wind make it difficult to execute plays for the team in possession.

The Sabres seemed to cope with the elements a little bit better in this game at 5v5, as they protected the critical ice well, often didn’t overcomplicate matters on the breakout — mostly flipping pucks into areas that created 50-50 foot races — and played a really simple game of throwing plenty of pucks on net offensively (outshooting the Leafs 38-36 despite less puck possession time). Against a goaltender that was more liable to give up the softie, it worked out for them tonight.

9.  This is the limelight effect of playing in Toronto at work:

This was a case of two guys going at it with an exchange of cross-checks, and while the stick missing the shoulder and contacting the neck area isn’t pretty, it’s coming from a player with zero record of even thinking about a dirty play over his 422 NHL games. It’s a cross-checking penalty and a fine at most.

I also like Auston Matthews sticking up for himself there.

10.   It was interesting to hear this post-game comment from Sheldon Keefe when asked about dropping points to non-playoff teams of late:

“I am not going to read too much into a night like tonight, but certainly, before tonight when we were playing in regular surroundings, it is something that we haven’t been happy with for sure.

We are going to get more than enough opportunities to play against teams that are not in the bottom half of the league. We will read a little more into who we are as a team when that happens.”

It’s a strange comment knowing the Leafs brass — Brendan Shanahan, Kyle Dubas, and Sheldon Keefe — spoke at length before the season about the need for their group to show more killer instinct, starting with a dominant regular season that sets the team up, both in their standings positioning and in their winning habits, to be able to have deep-run playoff success.

It’s worth noting the Maple Leafs entered their last playoff series 20 points clear of their opponent in the regular-season standings. Frankly, this is the kind of comment only a coach with significant recent playoff success should be making.

Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Game Highlights: Sabres 5 vs. Leafs 2