February 21 2013 08:58PM
Photo: Abelimages via NHLInteractive
Another strong defensive outing for the Toronto Maple Leafs, although they had to rely on their goaltender for a couple of big saves in the first period. After the first 20, however, the game slowed to the crawl that Randy Carlyle prefers to play.
You could tell by mid-game that Ron Rolston didn't have any secret formula to turning the Buffalo Sabres into anything more than a mediocre one-line team with a good goaltender. If the Sabres were generating offence, it was purely out of the offensive instincts of Thomas Vanek. If the Sabres were stuck in their own end, it was very likely that Tyler Ennis or Steve Ott were kicking around on the ice. If the puck was around the Sabres net, it was Ryan Miller, not any defenceman, ensuring it wouldn't get in.
Over the last four days, the Maple Leafs have been fortunate enough to play three teams in the league that are worse than them. I'd say they looked good and got through this stretch of the schedule with relative ease, and would have swept the games if it hadn't been for a couple of weak ones by Ben Scrivens. He was sharp against Buffalo, though, although he didn't have to be in a 3-1 win that was a lot less close than the score indicated.
-One thing I've noticed is that the Leafs are quite prone to giving up a scoring chance in the first minute or so. Didn't happen tonight, but Buffalo spent :30 seconds at the start of the game in the offensive zone, and the Leafs had to block a couple of shots because of it.
-Toronto won the scoring chance battle 18-10 overall and 11-7 at 5-on-5. I thought the Sabres were the better team in the early going but Toronto had some good puck possession in the second period and benefit from the bulk of the power plays, and also Buffalo's weak specialty teams units. It was a very complete final 40 by the Leafs.
-The Sabres' special team's are a special kind of awful. Toronto actually out-chanced Buffalo 2-1 while shorthanded—including that looping play by James van Riemsdyk in the second period that resulted in Ryan Miller having to make a tight save. van Riemsdyk looked like Peter Forsberg on that play and even though he scored two goals, those were just tap-ins. That shorthanded play really showed where the Leafs have a speed advantage over Buffalo.
-Toronto on the PK? 4:13 from Jay McClement. It was pointed out on the broadcast that McClement has spent more time shorthanded than any other player. Nik Kulemin had 2:48 and while he's been absolutely anonymous offensively this season, he looked pretty good in his own end and took away an excellent Cody Hodgson chance in the first period.
-James van Riemsdyk had two goals, both set up by other Toronto players, and he had another one robbed by Miller on the 5-on-3. Phil Kessel and Cody Franson set him up three times, so he had a bit of assistance on those ones. He did create two plays for himself so he took five shot attempts that were recorded as scoring chances: he led the team with six shots on goal as well and had four attempts blocked.
-It took a period for the Grabovski line to adjust to their matchup. Buffalo is a one-line team, but it is a very good line, and Thomas Vanek is a very good hockey player. All four of their 5-on-5 chances came in the first period, and the Leafs' checking line beat them 2-0 after that. There are some limitations to Grabovski's game. One of them appears to be face-offs; he was 7-of-19 tonight and somehow managed to go 5-for-13 against Cody Hodgson, who has huge deficiencies in that area of his game.
-But Tyler Bozak was struggling in that department as well: he was 5-of-14 in the defensive zone and 12-of-27 on the night. Not a good night in the circle for Toronto except for Nazem Kadri, although he played a bunch against Kevin Porter, the Sabres' checking centreman called up for the game. I'm discouraged by how often the Leafs' first line starts in the defensive end, but encouraged by how well, with van Riemsdyk, they've been able to move the puck forward off of it.
-Six chances for the Leafs' second line tonight. I'm going to dub the Kadri line the "second line" because traditionally the third line is a checking line. Leo Komarov actually shot the puck on two of those, and a third shorthanded. This was his strongest game of the year, he created things offensively, hit like a truck, and nobody seemed to notice that Colton Orr was out of the lineup...
-Every Leafs defenceman was a "plus" or "even" in scoring chances differential tonight. Nobody was getting supremely killed out there. A reason why Mark Fraser and Cody Franson do so well is that they often play while Nazem Kadri is on the ice, so they generally get to play against third line competition. They aren't nearly as good as their +/- totals suggest, but they're much better than I think anybody, including Randy Carlyle, could have expected coming into the season.
-Dion Phaneuf scored his 100th goal of his career. He becomes the 80th defenceman to score 100, which I guess is somewhat cool. More importantly tonight he saw a lot of minutes against Thomas Vanek and kept him off the scoresheet, a pretty difficult task for many defenders this season.
-Here are the Leafs' individual scoring chance differential statistics from tonight. Note that Porter, who was the Rochester American that concussed Jake Gardiner earlier this season, took a lot of abuse. There were no good Sabres' pairings, and Rolston mixed 'em up a bunch, with scattered results.
|TARANNA||Chances For||Chances Vs.||Chances +/-|
|James van Riemsdyk||2||3||-1|
|BOO-FALLO||Chances For||Chances Vs.||Chances +/-|
And team totals:
|Buffalo (EV)||6 (6)||1 (0)||3 (1)||10 (7)|
|Toronto (EV)||5 (5)||5 (2)||8 (4)||18 (11)|
LeafsNation Three Stars:
- James van Riemsdyk
- Phil Kessel
- Leo Komarov