OK, I'll be honest, I missed the first 6-7 minutes of this one, but nobody scored, so meh.
The Leafs wound up on the penalty kill just a couple minutes after I started watching, and they looked relatively good in their efforts. The Leafs started out with Michael Grabner and Nick Spaling up front, and they worked well. TSN noted that Grabner is actually one of the NHL leaders in short handed goals over the last 5 years, which is encouraging.
Connor Brown also was out penalty killing and looked good doing it. Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly were the second penalty-killing defence pair. It seems that Mike Babcock is going to try to use more skilled players on the penalty kill, which is something that I've been calling for for quite some time.
Just a few minutes later, the Leafs went to the power play, and the play-by-play guys were in the process of commenting on how skilled penalty-killing forwards (see a trend, here?) will be more likely to challenge another forward playing defence, and then Jack Eichel exploded past Connor Brown and sent a bullet home over the shoulder of Jonathan Bernier to open the scoring.
With just under two minutes to go in the first, Rich Clune got into a scrap to prove his relevance, which, ironically, did prove his relevance.
Toronto had a chance to tie the game soon thereafter, as Connor Brown and William Nylander walked in on a two-on-one. Brown sent a beautiful backhand saucer pass to Nylander, who shifted from his forehand to his backhand, and totally had Robert Lehner beat, but lost the handle and shot the puck way wide of the open side of the net.
As it turns out, it was Nylander's second chance of the period:
Nylander and Brown... That was Nylander's 2nd misfire on an excellent chance in the period. Could have 2. Has 0.— Stephen Burtch (@SteveBurtch) September 29, 2015
This next note from draglikepull is also something to keep an eye on:
Harrington and Marincin on pace to play under 10 minutes. As defencemen. Eesh.— Draglikepull (@draglikepull) September 29, 2015
Naturally, this is only the preseason, so there isn't really any need to get worried about Marincin getting his chance to shine with the Leafs, but it will be interesting to see how he is deployed as things go forward.
The second period started on the wrong foot, as the Leafs went down 2-0 on a tipped point shot that beat Bernier. Seconds later, it was Rielly who made an awful giveaway that lead almost directly to a goal against. Bernier probably should have read the play somewhat more quickly, but if you let a man go unchecked to your net (even if it's a wraparound) you can't get too upset with your goalie.
On Rielly's next shift he jumped up to grab a puck, and wound up coughing it up before he could get his stick on it, giving another great chance to Brian Gionta in the slot. Yikes. The refreshing part of this was that TSN's new play-by-play guy went on to forgive Rielly for his giveaways, pointing out that generally, Rielly has had a great preseason camp. What is this, optimism and big-picture perspective surrounding the Leafs in the media?
Dion Phaneuf made his presence felt as he absolutely destroyed Sabres' prospect Brendan Guhle, and drew Nicolas Deslauriers into taking a 2:00 minor for roughing. It really was the the best possible outcome for a hit like that. The fact that Phaneuf didn't drop the gloves to fight Deslauriers gave the Leafs a power play and a chance to climb back into the game. That's smart captain work. The Leafs didn't score, but hey, good work Phaneuf, even if you did have to destroy a teenager.
James Reimer came into the game for Jonathan Bernier on a scheduled goalie change and looked sharp making several very good stops while the Leafs were hemmed into their own zone, which happened a lot in this period, as the shots for those twenty minutes were 11-5 and 21-12 overall.
The lineup the Leafs chose to ice tonight was probably pretty close to the overall ability that they will offer on a regular basis during the regular season, and being out-played this badly by a similarly-equipped Sabres preseason squad doesn't bode well. Of course, the team will probably come together and be better than this on many nights, especially after Babcock works with them for a while, but still. I think we are in for a dark season.
Just under five minutes into the third period, Rielly sprang Shawn Matthias for a quick breakaway, but Lehner flashed the leather and kept the Leafs off the scoreboard.
Things went from bad to worse as Jake Gardiner and Joffrey Lupul couldn't tie up their men heading to the net, and the Sabres' prospect Evan Rodrigues cashed in on a Reimer rebound to make it 4-0. Shrug.
Ultimately, the Leafs did have a few scoring chances - Nylander had 3 great looks at the net and Matthias had 2 - but it just wasn't enough. Although the bounces may have gone their way in a different universe, the Leafs simply didn't generate enough chances to win this kind of game reliably.
It's probably safe to say that scoring is going to be an issue for this club.
A few notes on players
One concern for Scott Harrinton that stood out early in this contest: his skating. He was beat by forecheckers to the puck in his own end a few times.
Holy moly, people just won't stop talking about Brad Boyes being a former first round pick of the Leafs'. I know, I know, it's unlikely to stop, but then, I'm unlikely to stop complaining about it, either.
I only saw Marincin touch the puck once in his own zone and not have the puck exit the zone. I like his short, quick passes. He made a few questionable decisions with the puck in different places on the ice, but I'm interested to see more.
Cody Franson was in this game for Buffalo and looked good. We all know by now what makes him an effective player.
Connor Brown may very well have been the Leafs' best player on the ice tonight. He killed penalties well, dished to Nylander well, picked up men on the backcheck, and was ever surprisingly involved, physically.
Speaking of Nylander, it was awesome that he had the chances he did, and you have to think that sooner rather than later, he is going to start cashing in on more of those.