Much more often than not the Leafs' trips down the QEW to the Alphabet Arena and it's crummier predecessor have resulted in outcomes that have ranged from embarrassing to painful. However, every once in a while (and it's been very rare) things turn out well for the travelling contingent.
The game certainly didn't start out well for the Leafs. Between neutral zone turnovers and poorly timed pinches by the defencemen the Leafs managed to provide the Sabres with a steady stream of odd-man rushes. Luckily for the Leafs, the Sabres only capitalized on the worst of them when Toni Lydman flipped a puck past Vesa Toskala.
Once they settled down and started pressing the Sabres' defencemen by getting the puck in deep and starting the forecheck they struggled to hit their speedy forwards.
After a start that had us cringing VeTo got back to the form that this team will need to make the playoffs. Oh yeah, once it got in my head I am not letting that idea go. He made a number of 10-bell saves including one where the spotlight guy jumped the gun. Of course, an atrocious miss by Drew Stafford helped out a bit. The biggest help though was that the Leafs moved from playing shinny to defending like NHLers.
Is that the face of an NHL regular? The Sportsnet crew was much more convinced than yours truly. Williams sniped the equaliser which showcased that he certainly does have a big league wrist shot. Last year he scored in his first 2 games too and then went 16 without a goal. A big reason for that is a lack of footspeed. Over these past two games it certainly looks like he has addressed that concern at least partly.
You can see the beginnings of the moustache in that picture. With every passing game I start to really believe that, much like Samson, White's power emanates from the awesome duster he has grown. Last night he played what has become his typical solid defensive game (is this Bizarro Toronto?) and added the winning goal on a hell of a trick shot that jumped over Ryan Miller.
As you can imagine, most of the standouts in a 2-1 game tend to be on the defensive end. Mike Van Ryn returned and turned in the same kind of game that he had been playing before he was felled by a cheapshot. He's probably about two months from ending his tenure in Toronto so we might as well enjoy his play. Jamie Sifers, who it was reported during the game trained with Martin St. Louis during the summer, continued to impress and seems to be settling in well. Rather than just being invisible (a good thing) he started jumping into the play and laying some big hits (a better thing). And last, but not least, Jason Blake had another impressive display. He had a lot of jump and, as was mentioned on the show, was doing the little things well. I wonder if maybe Burke whispered in his ear that he wasn't going anywhere and that's settled him down? Or maybe he said that he can't get him out of here if he's playing like shit.
One final note, apparently the Sabres have made all three Leafs games "platinum" level tickets. This means that tickets have a 35% premium tacked on which resulted in a failure to sell out the Alphabet Arena. This is just one more instance where the Leafs are used to prop up franchises. If it's not the increased ticket sales then it's revenue sharing and if not that then they are being used to market third jerseys. Fans may hate the Leafs but they do a lot to keep the other franchises running. A thanks once in a while wouldn't kill you!