The Buffalo Sabres were better than the Leafs last year where it counted – at being bad. This year, the cross-QEW rivals begin their climb back to the top of the National Hockey League, loaded with prospects and newly-acquired players. While the Leafs appear poised to stay near the bottom, the points don’t matter right now and hey, who likes losing to the Sabres?
If you guessed “tonight’s roster”, you’d probably be wrong, but you wouldn’t know it from their second period and their penalty kill.
This game actually started off pretty well. Two minutes in, Nazem Kadri snuck his way into the offensive zone in his usual fashion and found Stuart Percy. While you often wouldn’t confuse Percy for a sniper, he put his weight into a fantastic wrist shot to beat Robin Lehner and open the scoring.
A few minutes later, Daniel Winnik followed things up with a breakaway and made no mistake. Things were looking pretty good.
IN IT TO WINNIK pic.twitter.com/yJJSQ5tI3y
— The Leafs Nation (@TLNdc) September 26, 2015
With Morgan Rielly in the box for tripping Cal “Second Best” O’Reilly, Marcus Foligno managed to bring the Sabres within one with a late period slapshot. It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time, and when Matt Frattin finished a feed by Mark Arcobello with a Stamkos-like one timer, it was quickly forgotten.
It probably shouldn’t have been, though. After twenty minutes, the Sabres had already taken eighteen shots and were doing a decent job of drawing penalties. Something was going to give, and when Dion Phaneuf took a penalty for double cross checking Brian Gionta, the slippery slope began.
Before he could leave the box, Gionta tipped in a revenge goal to give Buffalo their second powerplay goal of the night. Four minutes later, after killing a penalty, Nicolas Deslauriers finished off a sliky smooth tic-tac-toe play. With four minutes left in the period, Ryan “the good brother” O’Reilly tipped in Brendan Guhle’s point shot on a shorthanded opportunity.
The Leafs went from two goals up to a goal down, despite heavily outshooting the Sabres throughout the period. They didn’t completely lose hope, as evidenced by a heads-up play by Nazem Kadri to tie the game, but after Arcobello headed to the box for a hook in the final minutes of the period, Mark Pysyk regained Buffalo’s lead. From there, it never went away; David Legwand added an empty-netter to seal the deal
Nazem Kadri was named the game’s second star, and it was well deserved. Percy’s goal was a direct result of Kadri gaining the zone and evaluating his options on-the-fly. His push forward to open himself up for the 4-4 goal was an intelligent one as well. Credit is also due for Mitch Marner; he had the best possession numbers on the team tonight, participating in the action for 17 attempted shots for and just six against.
See You Next Time
The Leafs are back at it tomorrow night, taking on the Montreal Canadiens. They won’t be going anywhere, though; the game remains at the Air Canada Centre.