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The Toronto Maple Leafs picked up more useless moral victories in Buffalo tonight. They fired almost 80 shots at Ryan Miller (12 blocked, 17 missed the net), competed much better, drew penalties with their hard work, and looked poised to start off the game in the best way possible. Many of the shots were not from trouble areas but many were and when they were the Leafs ran into a familiar nemesis. Ryan Miller now has 10 straight wins against the Leafs and has only allowed more than 2 goals once in that span.
Unfortunately, the Leafs' power play continues it's slide. The problems are numerous ranging from Beauchemin being unable to get his shots through to Kessel staying pinned to the half boards and getting the puck in an easily defended position to a lack of havoc in front of the opposition goalie.
The end result? Viktor Stalberg draws a double minor and the Leafs' PK gives up two goals. One more power play goal for the Sabres and the game was over. Tony Ambrogio tweeted that he thought that Tim Hunter was responsible for the penalty kill but it would be nice to have someone confirm. Bill Watters, hold on to your hats, made the good point that Ron Wilson has always had a great penalty kill which points more towards the players being the problem than the system. Jonathan Willis of The Score's Hockey or Die site had two good and relevant posts about coaches' not necessarily getting stupid overnight and about some steps that Phoenix's GM took to improve trouble areas for the team including the PK.
- Viktor Stalberg showed good effort along the boards. His quick acceleration helped him win a lot of battles.
- Luke Schenn was inspired tonight as he picked up two assist, was +2 in over 20 minutes and was named the game's 3rd star.
- Phil Kessel responded well to Ron Wilson's challenge. He was stronger on the puck and put forth more effort than previous games.
- Vesa Toskala did not lose the game. That doesn't seem like much until you remember that it's Vesa Toskala and you basically just witnessed a minor miracle.
- I'd give you more stats but the NHL's stats/video engine has crashed. I guess it was tied to the Prudential Center's lighting power source.
Not that we expected the Leafs' to win in a city where the Toronto Maple Leafs have a record of 25 wins, 56 losses (including tonight), 6 ties, and 2 OT/SO losses while being outscored 349-229. However, it's a shame that the Leafs' much improved effort at even strength be torpedoed by special teams. To be honest, I'm at a loss as to what can be changed on the PP other than the personnel because even when they shift the approach the results have not improved. Needless to say, the same applies to the PK. The only real difference that ever has an impact: Jonas Gustavsson. This game certainly wasn't on Vesa Toskala by any stretch of the imagination but Jonas is a difference maker. Hopefully, he's ready for tomorrow night.
Update: David Olesky provides the Sabres' perspective on the game including Corsi and Fenwick numbers. Corsi looks at the difference in the total number of shots directed at an opponent's net, including blocked shots and missed shots, to those directed at the players' net while a player is on the ice. Fenwick doesn't include blocked shots. Two things stand out:
- The fourth line got absolutely killed. Colton Orr was a -8 and Jamal Mayers was a -11.
- Ian White, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Francois Beauchemin, and John Mitchell led the way as they were all in double digits.