100 days after they lost 9-3 to the Sabres at the KeyBank Center, the Maple Leafs walked into Buffalo, Ilya Samsonov pitched a shutout, Auston Matthews scored #60, and they won 3-0 in a game that ended in a line brawl.

Your game in 10:

1.   The game started at a dizzying pace as there wasn’t a whistle for nearly five minutes. The first stoppage in play was due to a Leafs goal.

On the game’s first shift, Owen Power walked in with time and space versus Toronto’s top line and failed to finish. The Leafs‘ early chance to start the game came right afterward when Bobby McMann streaked off the rush and ripped a snapshot that caught the Sabres off guard. Jeff Skinner also found some time and space in against Ilya Samsonov 1v1, but it was clear early on that Samsonov was dialed in for this one.

Shortly afterward, the Leafs took the lead. A great rush by William Nylander started in his own zone and went up the wall on his off-side; he gathered enough speed that he was able to slice through the neutral zone and gain the zone at pace, backing off the defense and drawing two players to him, a defenseman and forward. It left John Tavares wide open for a pass in the high slot.

When Tavares picked up the puck, McMann was positioned for a one-timer, which froze Dahlin between them. Tavares released his patented wrist shot, walking in with time and space to rip the puck home and give the Leafs an early lead.

That’s point #95 for Nylander, the most points in a single season by a Swede in Leafs history, passing Mats Sundin.

2.   A little over a minute and a half after the Leafs grabbed the lead, Connor Dewar took an offensive-zone holding penalty. The call was a little chintzy, but there was also no reason for Dewar to take his hand off his stick for a little pull, especially when playing with the lead.

This was the first big test for the Leafs’ penalty kill, especially with Dewar in the box, who has been playing on the top unit alongside David Kampf of late. With Dewar in the box, William Nylander joined Kampf along with Jake McCabe and TJ Brodie. The Sabres created zone time, but the Leafs’ PK generally managed to keep them to the outside and prevent anything through the middle of the ice, and Samsonov stood tall when needed.  The one Tage Thompson one-timer took so long to develop and he was so far out from the net that Samsonov had plenty of time to set up and save it.

Brodie, in particular, was excellent on this kill. He repeatedly stepped up on Rasmus Dahlin and JJ Peterka to force passes by blocking the shooting lane (Brodie also made the pivotal clear on this kill).

Right after the Leafs killed the penalty, the Sabres tried to force the puck to the slot, where Dewar raced back and tried to clear the puck, but he shot it over the glass. The same four Leafs PKers returned to the ice, and Brodie again cleared it. Keefe snuck out Auston Matthews for some shorthanded ice time due to back-to-back kills. Bobby McMann joined him and created a scoring chance on the kill on a 1v1 rush versus Dahlin.

Those were two big Leafs kills to maintain the lead, and it highlighted Brodie’s path for inclusion in the playoff lineup: the penalty kill, where he does have the pedigree.

3.   The game started to settle down after those penalties. The best chance for the rest of the period came courtesy of a JJ Peterka shot that rang off the post. Ryan Reaves also had a great backcheck to break up what would have been a breakaway on one sequence.

With a few minutes left in the period, the Leafs got it in deep and Pontus Holmberg drew a penalty on the forecheck. The Leafs’ power play created one really good look as William Nylander fit a seam pass through to Auston Matthews for a cross-ice look that Luukkonen stopped with a combination of his glove and mask.

By the time the period ended, the Leafs were up 18-17 in shot attempts at 5v5. They needed to deal with two penalties to the Sabres’ one, but they still held a 1-0 lead.

4.   The Leafs’ top line went out to start the period again and again spent the majority of the shift in their own end. They weren’t breaking out cleanly, and they weren’t crisp with their passing.

On the next shift, Nylander almost scored what would have been a highlight-of-the-year candidate. On a partial 2v1 rush with a heavy backcheck, he cut in and slid the puck through, just missing the net.

On the next shift, the third line was in danger early as Pontus Holmberg gave it away in the middle of his own zone (he did the same thing in the first period), leading to a scrambly sequence. Matthew Knies eventually won a puck battle and sprung the Leafs on a 2v1 down the ice as Nick Robertson took off from the far side.

I don’t think the defenseman clocked Robertson on the play; he stepped up on Knies, who made an easy pass to spring Robertson on a breakaway. Robertson showcased his great shot to score through the five-hole. The puck was barely on his stick; it was a quick one-touch on his backhand to tee up the shot for himself, and the quickness of the release — he did not even contemplate a deke — fooled the goalie.

5.   After taking the 2-0 lead, the Leafs had a chance to pull away courtesy of the top line. First, Max Domi broke in on a 2v1 with Tyler Bertuzzi, who just missed the net on the one-timer attempt. Auston Matthews missed the follow-up in the slot before Domi got absolutely robbed on a tic-tac-toe play in the slot after Bertuzzi found him with a one-touch pass far side (Luukkonen made a great glove save). 

A few minutes later, on the top line’s next shift, Domi just missed Matthews in the slot. On the shift afterward, William Nylander—who had been flying all night—drew a penalty.

On this power play, they switched Matthews and Nylander to their strong sides to help with puck movement. The best chance on the power play was a cross-ice pass from Bertuzzi to Nylander, but again, Luukkonen made another big save. There was a real push to grow the lead to three, but the Leafs couldn’t capitalize.

6.   After the power play, there was another Matthews chance at 5v5, but after he missed, he took a penalty. It’s the type of sequence of events you’re worried about in this situation if you’re the Leafs, who created a bunch of chances to stretch the lead and then took a penalty.

The penalty kill, this time with Connor Dewar back on the top unit, again stood tall. They have been super aggressive the past few weeks; a few times, they were pulled out of position because of it, but the benefit of the aggressiveness is that it forces teams to make perfect passes to beat them. The Sabres were just off on a few sequences. When Buffalo did get shots off, Ilya Samsonov was excellent.

Toronto killed the penalty, and then shortly afterward, Jake McCabe took a puck-over-glass penalty, the Leafs second of the night. The penalty kill was again aggressive, although JJ Peterka missed an open one-timer at the backdoor. Otherwise, the Leafs really didn’t give up much, and their aggression really forced mistakes by the Sabres. Those are positives the PK can build on, which is all you can really hope for at this point in the season.

7.   In terms of the overall game, the four penalties hurt the Leafs’ rhythm and ability to build on the positives in their play. They were again leading in shot attempts in the second period, and they were up 5-1 in high-danger attempts at 5v5 through two periods for the game with a collection of chances we noted to make it a 3-0 game (primarily at 5v5). But they kept taking penalties, and even though the Sabres weren’t capitalizing, it kept the score close for a while and allowed Buffalo to hang around the game.

There’s a lot of focus on the Toronto penalty kill and its poor run of play lately — rightfully so — but the Leafs have taken many bad penalties along the way to compound the issue. It didn’t bite the Leafs on the scoreboard through two periods, but it hurt their ability to put the Sabres away.

8.   The first line started the third period, and again, the Sabres went right down the ice against them, but it was a quick Tage Thompson shot for a whistle. Sheldon Keefe immediately put out the fourth line for a defensive-zone draw.  Needless to say, if the top line is going to start periods, they have to start on time, and they went 0/3 on the night in this one.

The fourth line won the draw and got it out, but TJ Brodie decided to forecheck below the goal line up 2-0, and the Sabres quickly broke out for a good chance off the rush. They had one of their best chances of the night afterward as Peterka got the puck all alone in front with Samsonov sprawling, but the puck seemed to knuckle on him.

The Leafs’ top line responded with a good chance off the rush, but Matthews was stopped yet again with time and space as he tried to go glove side.

9.   The Leafs’ power play got yet another opportunity to essentially ice the game, and not only did they not score, but they also gave up two breakaways. The worst part of the whole sequence is it came in the second half of the power play when the Leafs had two defensemen on the ice — McCabe and Brodie — presumably to avoid this exact scenario. Brodie offers very little offensively and hasn’t scored in over 100 games, so the coaching staff probably wasn’t thinking that would suddenly change.

The first breakaway was a Dylan Cozens chance that Ilya Samsonov robbed cleanly. The second was a breakaway for Jeff Skinner as he left the box, which was followed by a rebound attempt that a down-but-not-out Samsonov battled to save. The crowd went nuts for Samsonov, and deservedly so.

10.   Finally, the Leafs found their third goal to really distance themselves from the Sabres. The sequence started with a fortunate bounce as Bowen Byram’s stick broke and Auston Matthews poked it free from his skates, creating an in-tight breakaway where he was robbed yet again. Matthews stuck with it by shooting again and hitting the outside of the post. He stuck with it again, centering a puck that squeaked through to the point, where Conor Timmins did what he does really well by getting a puck through traffic.

Tyler Bertuzzi was involved in the slot, and the puck bounced to Matthews, who finished into a wide-open net. It was his sixth shot of the night, and you could see the milestone weighing on him to some degree. It sparked a massive celebration in an arena that must have been 90% Leafs fans (at a minimum). The building arena erupted with a standing ovation as MVP chants echoed throughout the arena. An awesome moment, and an incredible atmosphere in which to clinch #60.

Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Joe Bowen & Jim Ralph Game Highlights