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Recap: Leafs at Sabres is a blow out in three acts

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The Leafs stomp a thin Sabres lineup by exploiting the same defensive weakness over and over and over again.

NHL: Preseason-Toronto Maple Leafs at Buffalo Sabres Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

I’m lifting the format for this recap from Nafio, because I really liked it. Stick tap to her.

Manage your expectations. That's the key to pre-season games. Jhonas Enroth was in his first real game after a month of playing as Team Sweden's practice goalie. Tyler Bozak was in his first game since last spring. It would be normal for it to take some time for them to get going.

However, there were some returnees from last night's action in the lineup, including William Nylander, as well as Mitch Marner, who you know has been ready to get in another game since one second after the first one ended.

The lines were set with a top six of scorers, and bottom six of grinders, but there was some grit in the top half and some sneaky scorers in the bottom. The mix paid off.

Forward Lines

Holland-Bozak-Marner

Greening-Nylander-Brown

Prust-Laich-Kapanen

Clune-Gauthier-Timashov

Defender Pairs

Gardiner-Carrick

Nielsen-Hunwick

Valiev-Corrado

Period One

The action got going right away in this game, and the Sabres took an early too much man penalty. The conventional wisdom is that it's tough to get your power play unit going on an early chance.

The Leafs don't listen to conventional wisdom.

They had excellent control of the puck on both power plays in the period, with four shots on goal in the first one. The ease with which they were connecting on passes presaged the whole of the period.

They all had the puck on a string.

The first goal came on a great offensive set up by Colin Greening, and Nylander was in exactly the right spot, net-front, to tip in a shot from Jake Gardiner.

Not every play was perfect. Rinat Valiev again had trouble handling the puck.

Marner showed off his defensive ability, winning a board battle in his own end. Okay, it was Tyler Ennis, but he got the puck....and did a nice junior hockey lob that didn't even clear the blue line. Last time we see that move, I'll wager.

Halfway through the period, the Sabres finally came to life and bounced one in right off Enroth's back after a very busy scrum in front of him.

Peter Holland got the lead back with a tip off a beautiful pass from Frank Corrado after Marner set up the play.

And then, the scoring star we all know and love got to work. Matt Hunwick got two goals in 12 seconds with assists by Brandon Prust and Freddie Gauthier. As you'd expect.

4-1 after one.

Standouts

Nylander, Nylander and Nylander. I don't know who that anemic version was playing Thursday night, but the real man was in the game tonight. He was moving perfectly, setting up the play, controlling where all the Sabres moved by how he moved, it was fantastic. Excellent period of play for him.

The grinder lines. They all played well, finished up the period with 100% Corsi and got the job done defensively. And yes, that includes Brandon Prust, who is reminding everyone that he's played in the NHL for years. If that can translate into real game ability, I don't know, but hopefully the translation will happen on some other team.

Connor Brown. On ice for more offence than any other forward, and he was effective all over the ice.

Period Two

The Leafs got it going early in the second wit a goal from Kasperi Kapanen seconds after a near goal by Corrado

The question then was could they tighten up and hold off the Sabres. The grinder lines were good, and Bozak's line was fine, but Nylander's line had extensive time in their own end. Nylander himself made a terrible giveaway. But they eventually gained control.

Once the Leafs had control their breakout was quick and effective. They were generally smothering the Buffalo offence and forcing a turnover quickly.

Toronto's tactics were simple: a guy at the net, a rocket of a shot from the point, and pounce on the rebound. The Sabres collapsed so deep defensively that they were leaving the points wide open. I could have scored from the left circle.

Clune got one on a tip in of an Andrew Nielsen rocket. Gardiner put it in easy on a five-on-three.

Bibeau came in for Enroth halfway in, and while I’d love to tell you all about Enroth, he faced nine shots. So next time, we’ll look at him closely.

7-1 after two.

Standouts

Not Nylander. He was terrible at times in the defensive zone. It's not like he's incapable or doesn't care. He is not aggressive on the boards like Marner is, but he is able to be effective. It seems like he needs to be given better strategies. I think there will be a lot of video review in his future.

The Gauthier line. Clune got a goal, won a fight he didn't start, and they had no shots against until a few minutes left in the second period. They were tough forechecking, and good defensively. Can't ask for any more than that.

Period Three

Guy at the net, hard shot from the point. Yawn. Holland got that one.

The rest of the game was a desultory grind in the corners while a few Sabres prospects tried to look like they shouldn’t be cut tomorrow and the Leafs tried to maintain discipline.

8-1 the final.

Standouts

Antoine Bibeau. He shook himself awake to make a few killer saves. He was on when he needed to be.

Everyone who stayed focused in a blowout of epic proportions. Even the worst team in the league last year never gave up eight goals in one game. The stats say that was Bozak, Marner and Holland, who finished the night with the most shots for and the best Corsi percentage. After Freddie the Goat, that is.

I picked a goal totally at random to show you how the shot from the point or circle made for eight goals.

And here’s Hunwick’s second. He’s never scored two goals in a real game.

In a delightful co-incidence for Toronto hockey fans, the CWHL’s Toronto Furies beat the York University Lions 8-1 in an exhibition game tonight too. No mercy!

Game in six!