Friday night, the Leafs visited Buffalo and got beaten 3-1. When they played again the next day, the Leafs had a new name in the lineup and took the contest 4-2. In both games, the Leafs dominated the Sabres in possession when the score was close. Here's a link to Friday's game in six, and you can watch Saturday's below:
It was clear that Toronto took their foot off the gas in the latter half of the second game, which brought the game within one - a continued look at how the team seems dramatically worse when score effects take over.
Friday's game was mostly about offensive talent being turned away by Miller, and a failure to get a much-needed bounce. The Leafs' three most offensively talented forwards - JVR, Lupul, and Kessel - combined for 14 shots, not including a late-game JVR chance that was saved by Ehrhoff. Instead, it would be Trevor Smith that scored the lone goal on a great shot.
Saturday morning, the Leafs acquired Peter Holland from the Ducks (for more on that trade, check out JP Nikota's article here). He didn't look out of place at all, and it was great to get JVR back to the wing, and most importantly, in front of the net. JVR's ability to screen an opposition goaltender and deflect pucks is a phenomenal skillset, and I think dramatically increases the Leafs' ability to threaten based on an in-zone offense (as opposed to the "rush" style that the Leafs seem to feel so dependent on). I expect he'll get an extended look between JVR and Kessel - all of whom played relatively low ice time in Saturday's win - as Carlyle likes to stagger the offense, in addition to keeping Kadri and Lupul together.
Clarkson continues to move the puck in the right direction, but has yet to notch his first as a Leaf. Some of the Leafs' depth players, like McClement, Raymond, and Kulemin, got some good looks over the two games. Raymond continues to look good on the second power play unit, and Kulemin got his first of the season. Kulemin's shot totals are shockingly low, so we'll see if his offensive output continues to be an issue going forwards..
Turnovers in the zone continue to be an issue. Carlyle can talk about "limiting shots to the outside," but both goals (and at least one additional opportunity) in the Saturday game came off opportunities just above the hash marks, going far side and picking the corner on Reimer.
Paul Ranger had a pair of very strong games - he dominated possession both against Buffalo's depth players at home, and primarily against Leino and Ott when the Sabres were dictating the matchups. He was victimized on the first goal against, when Fraser's poor decision to pinch and worse footspeed gave the Sabres a 2-on-1. Despite this, and despite a message of "accountability" (which applies only to people who try and create offense), Fraser played over Rielly again Saturday night. He would leave the game with an injury - and I haven't seen anything about the extent or any expected missed time - but if Rielly is behind Mark Fraser even after a lousy pinch and a bad game against the worst team in the league, send him back to Junior and get him playing 20+ minutes a night. I'm hard pressed to find impact players in the NHL who were press-box heroes their first year in the league.
One other note on the Fraser pinch: I'm almost certain that the Leafs have instructed their puck-side defenseman to hold the line in almost every scenario. They almost never seem to give it up unless the Sabres have clear possession and are going to blow past them. I still think Fraser should've seen that coming - because Foligno has pretty clean and clear possession and an open passing lane - but it's interesting to note going forwards.
Bernier and Reimer looked good in both games, and it continues to be the Leafs' strongest position. Never thought I'd get to say that after the lousy netminders trotted out here in the past. Here are the ExtraSkater pages for Friday and Saturday nights. Leave some thoughts in the comments. The Leafs play their next game Tuesday night, when the host Tavares and the Islanders.