A preseason game against the Buffalo Sabres; what could possibly go wrong? Well, if last year was any indication, a lot of things. Fights, lumberjacks, suspensions, and all sorts of crazy stuff. Tonight, the goal was to keep everything a bit less aggressive and just play some hockey, and these two teams definitely did that.. for the most part. In the end, we got a bunch of scraps and the Leafs got an overwhelming 6-4 victory.
The Sabres were the first ones to strike in this game. Chris Stewart flew in towards the net and lifted up a heck of a backhand to open the scoring just eight and a half minutes in. It was a lead that didn’t last long though; Roman Polak tied it up thanks to a gorgeous pass by Tyler Bozak a minute and a half later.
Bozak wasn’t done his period of havoc, either. At the fifteen minute mark, he took a pass from Josh Leivo and tucked home an easy goal, and then picked up another assist on a pure snipe by Dion Phaneuf. Before the period could end, however, he did make a giveaway that eventually lead to Chris Stewart picking Petter Granberg’s pocket and beating James Reimer.
The two teams weren’t done with scoring. Two minutes into the second period, Leo Komarov scored his first of the preseason, casually walking in and beating Michael Neuvirth. Jake McCabe responded for Buffalo, giving everybody weird flashbacks to a famous Sabres overtime goal. For about fifteen minutes, things went silent on the goal count, until David Clarkson tipped in a point shot by Roman Polak to once again give the Leafs a three goal lead.
Midway through the period, the point-shot-to-tip strategy worked again, with Josh Leivo redirecting a Stuart Percy shot. With a minute and a half to go, Cody McCormick fired a slapper past James Reimer to close the gap a little, but it was to no avail, as the Leafs left Buffalo victorious.
Oh, and the fights. Lots of fights. Drew Stafford fought Dion Phaneuf, Sam Carrick fought Chris Stewart, David Clarkson fight Cody McCormick, and a few roughing situations went down as well. These teams didn’t like each other very much.
I was initially going to give this to Tyler Bozak, because a goal and two assists in a single period is fantastic, and he stayed in the top half of relative possession tonight, but I want to make a bigger point.
Instead, this goes to David Clarkson, who tipped in Roman Polak’s point shot late in the second period, and was the second best possession player in the lineup for the Leafs. Two things about David.
One, I really liked the fact he was in front of the net to make that goal happen. Clarkson found his best success with the Devils while playing the mythical “Holmstrom Role”. It gives him a purpose, and he’s effective at it. Keeping him from free-roaming and over thinking his game would be a wise move by the coaching staff.
Secondly, his fight with McCormick. Entertaining, sure, but you know what? He got injured in the scrap and the Leafs had to keep him out of the rest of the game as a precaution. For better or worse, the man is here for six more years and is being paid in excess of 36 million dollars to do so. He can’t risk injury by punching people with the frequency that he has since coming to the Leafs. I know he just wants to put it all on the line, but it’s more likely to become a detriment before it becomes a positive.
So David, you’re our Blue Warrior for playing good hockey. But at the same time, in trying to be more of a warrior, you’ve failed your purpose. It’s an odd paradox, but it’s up to you to find your balance.
- James Reimer looked alright for the most part. He faced a lot of rubber, so letting in four isn’t a huge deal. That last goal by McCormick is probably one that he would like to have back, but fingers should probably be pointed at Petter Granberg as well for how passive he was on the play.
- Stuart Percy was the best possession player on the team tonight, and the only one who finished with an even Corsi For percentage. The Sabres clearly controlled the pace of this game, which is kind of worrisome.
- I’m starting to wonder a bit about Petter Granberg. He hasn’t looked good at all during training camp, and he and Phaneuf were a mess tonight. Neither of these two are incredibly mobile, and it cost them. Granberg spent almost the entire 13/14 AHL season with John-Michael Liles (incredibly gifted skater at that level) and Stuart Percy (incredibly intelligent positionally), and it makes you curious as to whether they were carrying the load.
- Dion Phaneuf had a Gordie Howe Hat Trick – he fought and scored in the first, and had an assist in the third. Also, the worst relative possession player on the team.
- Sam Carrick is super fun to watch with the Marlies, and he was fun to watch tonight with the Leafs. He held his own in his fight with Chris Stewart, and showed Tyler Myers that he isn’t scared of a guy who is 7 inches taller.
- The Leafs face the Sabres again on Sunday, in Toronto.