Welcome to another Saturday night game, as the Leafs host their cross-border rivals from Buffalo tonight. As we head down the stretch, these all become big games, but with the Sens and Bruins winning earlier today, the Leafs need to win to keep pace.
A couple injury notes for both teams. Zemgus Girgensons and Cody Franson are out for the Sabres, while Josh Leivo gets another look tonight in place of Nikita Soshnikov. Expect Leivo to feature on the power play, if the Leafs get the chance.
- [20:00] Of course, the main narrative tonight is Matthews vs. Eichel. The two top American centres for the next decade go at it. Matthews decidedly had the edge in their last meeting, but they’re both phenomenal players.
- [20:00] Meanwhile, there will be another marquee centre matchup, as Ryan O’Reilly and Nazem Kadri will see their lines go head to head. ROR’s is probably the Sabres best line.
- [20:00] Starting goaltenders are Lehner and Andersen.
- [18:52] Looks like Sam Reinhart will be on the wing of Eichel today, as opposed to centering the third line.
- [18:05] Wow, weird play, as a Sabres point shot gets deflected twice and floats onto the crossbar. It stays out, and the Leafs avoid going down early.
- [16:37] Rielly blocks a shot, but takes it off the hand, and is in visible pain afterwards.
- [16:11] Meanwhile, the Buffalo fourth line gets extended pressure on the Leafs’ fourth, and even facilitates a full line change with the puck still in the Toronto zone. Buffalo carrying play in the first five minutes.
- [15:47] Welp, can’t say it was undeserved. Eichel wins a faceoff, Reinhart taps it to Kane, and Kane rifles a shot over the shoulder of Andersen. 1-0 Sabres. Bad start for the Leafs.
- [15:21] The Leafs haven’t shown up to start this game. Gardiner gets a little lazy in the neutral zone, and it leads to a partial break for Eichel. Andersen saves this, but Eichel draws a penalty on the play.
- [14:52] Ugh.. not a good start at all. Somehow, Buffalo basically has a 2 on 1 while on the PP. Okposo feeds Reinhart, who makes no mistake, and the Leafs are reeling. 2-0 Sabres.
- [14:43] Leafs don’t have a shot on net.
- [13:22] The fourth line has a shift in the Sabres zone, which is a welcome change. No real chances, but the Leafs need to stop the bleeding.
- [11:38] Bozak finds Marner with some space, streaking down the side of the ice, but he loses control just as he bears down on Lehner. Leafs have kind of gotten into the game, but precious little in terms of chances.
- [9:30] Another solid fourth line shift, including some aggression from Hunwick in terms of pinching that pays off.
- [8:35] Lots of shots from the left point so far from the Leafs. Most have been blocked in front.
- [7:20] ROR is just dominating the game at even strength right now. Getting the better of Kadri’s line.
- [7:05] Ristolainen and JVR fight. Not sure why.
- [6:20] Reinhart very nearly gets his second on a cross-crease pass. Just whiffs on it. Should be 3-0.
- [4:49] Leivo gets to take a partial shift with Nylander and Kadri, with some pretty strong results, forcing Lehner into a pair of strong saves in tight.
- [4:31] Too many men on the Sabres. Leafs get a power play, and a chance to pull within one before the end of the period.
- [3:47] Leafs getting nothing on this.
- [2:42] Yeah, terrible power play. Never really got set up to a reasonable degree. Missed opportunity.
- [1:58] Sigh... 3-0 Sabres. Eichel’s line pins the Leafs’ fourth line in, and he centers it to Kane, who uses that great shot of his from the slot. Less than a period in, and this one looks close to over.
- [0:00] The less said about that period, the better. A late flurry from the Leafs yields no goals, and they trail by 3 after a period.
- [20:00] Leafs have a mountain to climb here - lets see how they do.
- [18:19] We’d expect score effects to take hold to some extent, but thus far, the Leafs’ dangerous chances have been few and far between.
- [17:22] Another dangerous chance for the Sabres, as Derek Grant breaks up the middle and off a great pass from Jake McCabe, he gets a breakaway. The Leafs have parted like the Red Sea down the middle at times tonight.
- [16:35] Seriously, the Sabres are batting 1.000 on stretch passes so far.
- [15:30] Honestly, the Leafs are being so sloppy in so many ways right now. They can’t string together three good passes, and are getting nothing on net.
- [13:35] The Leafs get a power play.
- [13:05] The Leafs get set up immediately, and have about 40 seconds of pressure. No goals, though.
- [12:11] So fucking sloppy. Easy passes just being missed right now.
- [11:12] The power play ends without much further offense.
- [10:55] Matthews has his beast-mode shift, but nothing comes of it, as Hyman sees the puck hop off his stick off a great pass from the Arizonan.
- [9:28] I can’t believe we’re getting shut out by fucking Buffalo.
- [9:28] Marner is now playing with Matthews, in place of Brown. Not much happening, to be honest.
- [9:20] Defensive pairs have been switched too. Rielly and Carrick are now paired up.
- [8:25] Marner, Matthews and Hyman do a great job of maintaining the puck in the offensive zone, but basically no shots. The final pass or shot just isn’t there tonight.
- [7:14] Matt Hunwick makes a very frustrating play, taking a pass that was heading for Nylander in the neutral zone. Hunwick proceeds to hammer the puck into the zone from the centre line and do nothing for the rest of the shift. This is why we get mad at you, Matt.
- [4:48] Marner draws a tripping penalty on Josh Gorges. Reminder that Nonis wanted to trade for him.
- [4:35] Massive goalmouth scramble in the first 15 seconds of the power play, after the Leafs throw it on net and swarm. Somehow it stays out. Bozak had some great chances, but couldn’t elevate in tight.
- [4:03] Marner has been the best Leaf by a country mile tonight, and he deservedly gets a goal. Marner streaks in on the power play, and gets Lehner to overcommit. He then goes for a wrap-around, and banks it in off Ristolainen and Lehner. A bit lucky, but well deserved for him. He’s been the only bright spot tonight. 3-1 Sabres
- [3:17] That goal gives the Leafs a fighting chance, and there’s some jump in their game now. The crowd is getting into it, and if the Leafs can steal a goal before the end of the period, they’re in as good a shape as can be expected.
- [0:00] No more goals, but at least the Leafs have some hope heading to the third.
- [19:34] Feels like the Sabres have deflected or blocked every point shot.
- [18:04] What percentage of the time does Polak make a play on the puck that leads to his team retaining control? He either bombs it on net, or throws it haphazardly up ice.
- [17:20] This period is going to have a predictable rhythm. The Leafs will press, and occasionally give up some counters. The period will more or less be decided by the Leafs finishing and Lehner’s goaltending.
- [15:14] The Matthews and Bozak forward groups are doing the heavy lifting in terms of zone pressure. Goals are likely to come from there, if at all.
- [13:51] Right on cue, Lehner stones Bozak in front, after a great centring pass from JVR.
- [13:07] The Leafs are playing well, but this is what happens when you dig yourself a hole. And make no mistake, the first period wasn’t getting unlucky. They got off to a poor start by any metric, like they did against St. Louis. Unlike St. Louis, Buffalo capitalized.
- [10:15] More of the same. Pouring on pressure, but Buffalo s blocking every shot. The few that make it to Lehner are turned away.
- [8:45] Hunlak combines magnificently to make an ill-advised pinch resulting in a 2 on 1 against. Polak atones for it by backchecking.
- [6:13] Not a whole lot to say, at this point. The Leafs are pressing, but getting no rewards for it.
- [4:37] Kadri lands a huge (clean) hit on Gionta, which naturally leads to his teammates trying to give him a lecture. No penalties arise.
- [4:37] The Leafs should pretty much pull the goalie as soon as possible.
- [3:42] Leafs pull the goalie.
- [1:56] More chances, same amount of goals. The Sabres had the chance to finish the game off, but it doesn’t look likely to matter.
- [0:00] Game over. Good guys lose, 3-1.
This was a really disappointing game. The shots and expected goals are in the Leafs favour, even after adjusting for score, so to some extent, you can say they were unlucky. But at the same time, they gave up numerous prime scoring chances early in the first period, and they got taken advantage of. And Buffalo has been content to sit back, block a lot of shots, and take their chances with the clock. It’s worked.