Depth scoring & defending continue to falter, Maple Leafs drop fourth straight 6-4 to Sabres
Photo credit:Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
By Joseph Zita1 month ago
It’s been a rough few games for the Toronto Maple Leafs as they entered last night 0-2-1 in their previous three games against the Nashville Predators, Los Angeles Kings and Boston Bruins.
They needed a response against a middle-of-the-pack Buffalo Sabres team coming off a game against the Philadelphia Flyers the night prior and having to travel to Toronto. The Maple Leafs were the rested team, and they had something to prove in this game after dropping three straight and getting called out by many people about their team toughness against the Bruins.
If you were looking for an instant response from the Maple Leafs, you got it, well, kind of. They were getting outshot 4-0 by Buffalo through the first two minutes of the game but were handed an early power-play as they eventually evened up the shot count.
However, if you were looking for the Maple Leafs to show some toughness in this game, you got it. Within the first five minutes of the game, Calle Jarnkrok went to line a Sabres player up for a big hit and barely missed, Max Domi laid a hit on Owen Power in the corner of the defensive zone, Tyler Bertuzzi shoved a Sabres’ defenseman behind their net, and when Joseph Woll made a save, the Sabres were attacking the crease and all five Maple Leafs went to cover Woll and shoved the Buffalo players out of the way.
It’s nothing crazy, and it’s not like there were massive hits and a bunch of fights, but this start from Toronto is clearly from what was said about them over the past 48 hours, and it’s good to see. You don’t have to crunch everyone on every shift, but if you finish your checks and stick up for your teammates, that’s good, and that’s what we want to see.
After getting outshot by a small margin in the early going, Toronto responded well on that early power-play but couldn’t solve Devon Levi, with a couple of posts bailing the young netminder out. With Toronto settling back in the game and a defensive zone face-off for Toronto, Buffalo would turn the puck over to Morgan Rielly, who passed it to Jarnkrok, who sprung Mitch Marner on a breakaway and made no mistake, scoring his fourth of the season, which extended his point streak to six games.
Toronto opened the scoring, and Scotiabank Arena was loving it. However, that would last about three minutes as Calle Jarnkrok – after making a beautiful pass to Marner – would touch the puck before Tyler Bertuzzi was off the ice, and he handed the Sabres their first power-play.
Buffalo has struggled to score on the man advantage all season long, and with roughly 30 seconds left on the power play, JJ Peterka tied it up. Toronto would get a late power play after Tage Thompson took his second minor of the period, allowing Toronto to try and tie things up. The period would expire before Toronto could score another goal, and both teams headed into intermission all tied up.
The Maple Leafs began the second period with an abbreviated power play from the previous period but couldn’t score on the man advantage as the Sabres did well at limiting Toronto’s chances this time.
In Maple Leafs fashion, they took a penalty right after their unsuccessful power play, as David Kampf was whistled for holding. But they didn’t stop there! Mitch Marner took a slashing penalty on Alex Tuch, and Buffalo had themselves a massive 5-on-3 power play. Luckily, Toronto’s penalty killers did an excellent job and killed both penalties off, and they were now headed to their third power play of the game as Victor Olofsson went to the box for slashing Auston Matthews.
It was an up-and-down game for Marner at this point. He scored the opening goal on a breakaway, took a slashing penalty to put the Sabres on a 5-on-3, and then forced a pass to Matthews, which hit Tage Thompson’s skate, and Thompson would go the other way to sneak one past Joseph Woll shorthanded to put his team up 2-1.
Scotiabank Arena was getting restless, and they wanted their team to get the next goal after allowing two straight goals. Well, Buffalo would take their fourth minor penalty of the game to send Toronto to the man advantage, and this time, they converted, as Marner found Nylander, who found Matthews in the slot, and he scored his ninth of the season to tie the game up at two.
It was comical at that point. After Toronto does something well, they find the puck in the back of their net right after, and it was the situation after Matthews tied it. Sheldon Keefe sent the fourth line and third pairing over the boards after Matthews scored, which will always be a dumb idea, and the Sabres took advantage of that, as Jeff Skinner rocketed one past Woll in transition to put his team ahead late in the period. Toronto entered the second intermission down 3-2 with a potential three-game losing streak extending to a four-game losing streak.
Toronto came out with a purpose to start the third period. They were hard on the forecheck and cycled the puck down low again in the Sabres zone. Marner scooped the loose puck up from behind the net and found Matthews in front for his 10th of the season and second of the game.
After scoring just 17 seconds into the third period, Jordan Greenway gave his team the lead three minutes later because, of course. Toronto is playing from behind yet again after finding the scoreboard, and fans are starting to get upset.
Both teams would continue to trade chances in a high-shooting game thus far, but it was Toronto with an answer to Greenway’s goal off an offensive zone face-off win. Matthews won the draw, Mark Giordano collected the puck, fired it toward the net, and who else but Matthews to be there to redirect it home for his 11th of the season and third of the night, for his third hat-trick in just 11 games.
With Matthews scoring his third of the night and tying this game up at four, Toronto’s goal was to keep the puck out of their net because every time Toronto would score, they would allow Buffalo to find the back of the net and kill any momentum Toronto was trying to create.
Just over five minutes after Matthews found the back of the net, the Sabres would hem the Maple Leafs in their zone and would get a lucky bounce to go their way, with a Rasmus Dahlin point shot redirecting off of Alex Tuch’s shoulder and in. At this point, fans were losing their minds, and rightfully so.
Alex Tuch would score an empty netter for his second of the night and help propel his team to a 6-4 win.
Who stood out:
If I’m being honest, not many players looked that impressive to me, and it’s concerning, given the lazy effort against the Kings and being called out after the Bruins game.
Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner were the only two who seemed to care. Matthews notched his third hat-trick of the season, and Mitch Marner – although he handed Buffalo the second goal – had four points last night. William Nylander also added a lone assist to extend his point streak to open the season, but outside of that, who looked as good as the big boys? Depth scoring continues to be an issue for this team, and defending seems impossible.
John Klingberg. Man, I didn’t enjoy the signing when it happened, but gave him a chance in hopes he could have a solid season. However, it’s been a complete disaster on both ends of the ice, and you don’t have to be an analytics person to realize that.
The Maple Leafs dropped their fourth consecutive game and now have the Lightning, Senators, Flames, and Canucks on the schedule to finish this homestand.
You can catch the Toronto Maple Leafs’ next game on Sportsnet Monday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 pm ET/4:00 pm PT.
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