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Recap: Maple Leafs lazily beat the Sabres 5-2

The weak-looking Buffalo team seem like they’d really like this season to be over.

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

Ah, here we are again, back in the sunny and beautiful Buffalo, New York. You never know what you’ll get when you come play the Sabres, other than irritation, heartbreak and annoyance, if you’re the Leafs.

Tonight as Garret Sparks and the rest of us watch Curtis McElhinney man the net for the good guys, the bad guys look like this:

Joe Yerdon is so helpful, he gives the good guys’ lines too, which are slightly mixed up from yesterday.

Let’s play ball.

First Period

[20:00-15:00]

Ray Ferraro is back!

Okay, so Joe Yerdon had one thing wrong, Patrick Marleau is on the left, and Zach Hyman is on the right. Early returns are not positive. The net result was a good shot on McE by Ryan O’Reilly.

Mitch Marner with a breakaway that he tried to turn into one of those Matthews-esque hold the puck moves. Chris Cuthbert said it best: Marner corkscrewed himself into the ice, surrounded by three Sabres.

The Bozak line get some zone time, and later when I have time, I want to talk about Bozie, but they are doing their thing, which sure works these days, and Bozak whips the puck across the undefended slot to Morgan Rielly who bangs it to James van Riemsdyk (guess where he is) and in it goes, from, well, you tell me how:

1-0 Leafs

The replay showed that Robin Lehner had no stick, and that is JvR’s 30th goal.

[15:00-10:00]

The second shift from the Nylander line looked like mostly he and the defenders playing the puck.

Woot! Travis Dermott sends Zemgus Gigensons flying.

Nice fourth line shift draws a penalty, and who cares, though, eh? JvR comes on the ice as the extra man and nets his 31st. Sit back down, power play unit.

2-0 Leafs.

I’m calling that defensive indifference by the Sabres.

Bozak with a nice chance as he just drives the slot. JvR is right in there looking for chances. You know, I’m pretty happy that Andreas Johnsson is watching this one from up top. I know he should be focused on.

Nylander roars up the left side and gets off a shot, it whistles around to Carrick on the right side ... at the red line. So, instead of a reset to try again, he wails on ‘er, because that’s what he does.

The Leafs are allowed to do whatever they want in the neutral zone here.

[10:00-5:00]

Sabres are starting to finish their checks and not do much else unless O’Reilly is out there. He’s got good control of the ice.

Hyman drags the puck up the right side, showing the advantage of a right shot on the right side, as he keeps it at the boards, and he generates a chance.

Marner takes the puck and gets a chance; Marner takes the puck again and gets it to Carrick who more softly sends it into play; Marner takes the puck from his mom, and shoots it; Marner steals it off the popcorn concession and gets a chance.

After McE grabs the puck, up the ice, Matt Martin and Nate Beaulieu have quite a bout. Martin takes a hard hit. You know, to his head. Are we not entertained?

Replay shows this was a staged fight, and the rule banning those off the faceoff needs to be extended to any situation. Martin was “staggered” by the punch, and left for the locker room, not the penalty box.

McE has a very McE like goaltending sequence where the Sabres are guaranteed a goal as soon as he goes down the first time. Sure the defending wasn’t all that hot, but McE is way out in the paint with his left foot at least two feet away from the post. What’s he pushing off of to move to the right? Nothing. So of course he doesn’t get over.

2-1 Leafs

Sam Reinhart with the goal.

[5:00-0:00]

Hyman sets the puck right on net, and Lehner just lets a rebound sit out in front of him. There are no Sabres D there, of course. Leafs get the puck, but can’t make the Sabres pay for their Sabres-ness this time.

Ron Hainsey swaps sides with Jake Gardiner — hey, you need to switch it up to keep things fresh — and he gets off some of those perfect point shots of his that are meant to be setups to scoring chances. He’s so good at this. Leafs like to do this primarily from the right point, generally.

Marner and Komarov are a really surprisingly successful combination. But maybe I shouldn’t be surprised, since Marner was really good with Martin.

Bozak digs out the puck on the last shift of the game, and he has the ability to be a very tough customer in the offensive zone. His play for most of the last two years in that regard has been a revelation. He’s not who he used to be.

Numbers

Leafs: 80 million, Sabres: nada.

The heatmap shows you just how epically not in the game the Sabres are:

Second Period

[20:00-15:00]

Just because the Sabres seem to barely be in this game, doesn’t mean their offensive ability has vanished, as they do have some skilled players. The Leafs are getting loose, and McE is a rebound man, like nearly all backups are. (I consider Lehner’s play to be that of a high-end backup, by the way.)

Nylander shows off his signature move where he rolls up the slot and ... totally fans on the shot.

Nicolas Baptiste, one of the hungry AHLers, splits the D so hard he sends Gardiner to the box on a slashing call.

[15:00-10:00]

Hainsey has a new PK technique as he basically just sat on a guy for a while. The Sabres have a hot-looking power play from somewhere. They never have before. It doesn’t last, unsurprisingly, and the Leafs kill it off.

Carrick brings the puck in to the o-zone on his offside, and gently sends it bouncing toward the net (good); the forwards pick it up (good); do their low-to-high pass to get the defenders to turn around and put their backs to the forwards behind them (good); it goes to Carrick, who is back on the right point (uh-oh), but instead of wailing from where he’s standing under no pressure, he walks it over to the centre ice and boom! In the net (very good).

3-1 Leafs.

Yeah, Lehner looked clueless on that goal. I’m agreeing with Ray on this one.

Lehner gave up a big rebound again that nearly costs him. You know, I’d pull a goalie for that, not the goals against.

Komarov goes down on a collision with Nylander? Nylander looks like it was nothing. Uh-oh. Leo looks hurt for real, as he puts no weight on his left leg going off the ice. Okay, so let’s hope Martin is really okay now or the Leafs have 10 forwards.

Polak jumps up into the play on the very next shift. All is well.

[10:00-5:00]

The Leafs do what they always do when faced with adversity: They start skating harder. Babcock has successfully brainwashed them.

Nylander line with some heavy zone time, this line is working, and they draw a slashing penalty.

Mo gives the puck to the Sabres with the Leafs are on the power play, for, er, no good reason. McE gets a whistle he didn’t want.

Wow the Leafs are bad here. And then suddenly they set up and the Sabres are terrible.

They’re just letting JvR park in the slot like he’s the boss and there’s a sign with his name on it there.

LOL. What a goal. Just watch it. Bing, bang, boom. Marner with the guys he used to hang with back in the day (as in early January). Bozak puts it in.

4-1 Leafs.

[5:00-0:00]

Leafs draw yet another power play with some fairly light offensive pressure.

Kadri wants to sit, so he makes it into four-on-four with a hooking call.

Marner is worried Naz is lonely, so he takes a slashing call.

The Sabres four-on-three sure looks pretty, but they get one shot, then have to reset and get one more before Polak clears it.

McE plays a shot in a very McE way, but they get away with it, and then Kadri and Ristolainen get into it just as the first five-on-three is over, and it’s Kadri that goes alone because Ristolainen’s hit was clean. Dumb. Five-on-three for another 30 seconds.

Pominville pulls a Nylander, and the Leafs clear after he fans on it. Nothing comes of the two-man advantage, but as Marner comes out, there’s some chances McE handles with aplomb.

Bah, Ristolainen scores on a bomb from the point.

4-2 Leafs.

Except, no, it was tipped.

This game went to hell as soon as everyone got emotional.

There’s under a minute left, and the Leafs don’t let the Sabres get anything going.

Thoughts

Nylander’s line looks good, and I wonder if playing on the wrong side has forced Hyman to focus a little, because he’s very good.

Kadri is Kadri.

I’d play the Nylander line and the Bozak line and make a Plekanec with Kapanen and Marner line and leave Kadri to sit. But I’m meaner than Babcock, I think.

The Sabres actually won that period on scoring chances, if not Corsi, so the Leafs very much took their foot off the gas.

Third Period

[20:00-15:00]

Komarov out for the rest of the game, at least, and Kapanen is up in his spot at first.

Nylander makes an offensive chance happen by being much faster than the Sabres expect.

Larsson pops the puck over the glass, the classic bad team penalty.

The power play looks good, but nothing comes of it.

[15:00-10:00]

The Leafs turn the puck over behind their net, and the Sabres have a great chance.

Kapanen (with the fourth line) makes a great move, but has nothing left to shoot with and I think he’s afraid to pass now.

Marleau is on the left side with Kadri now.

[10:00-5:00]

The games i moving with speed now, and the Sabres look like they should have all game. The Leafs can’t sit back.

Marner with a great chance.

The teams are playing the kind of up and down clock eating style that is like a self-bag-skate.

[5:00-0:00]

Buffalo get a chance off the O’Reilly line, but McE is anchored on his posts, and can make the saves he needs to make.

The Sabres pull Lehner really early and generate some chances. They get a few more as the Leafs decide to forget how to play the puck.

Marner is out with Brown and Bozak, as Babcock looks for defensive enough lines for the last two minutes.

The last minute and a half starts with defensive zone faceoffs and good saves by McE.

Polak ices the puck when he’s forced to just clear it. I always wonder if taking a penalty in a situation like this wouldn’t be a smart tactic.

Marleau finally gets the puck and pops it in the open net with only seconds left in the game. The points in this game put him past Darryl Sittler on the all-time points list.

The Leafs, being the Leafs, made McE work hard for a well-deserved win.

Final Score: Maple Leafs 5-2 over the Buffalo Sabres.

Thoughts

Nylander’s line dominated this game offensively, which is interesting considering he just played two games up against tough lines where the best he got was no goals against. The line between teams you can roll over and teams you can’t is very fine.

Komarov is going to be tough to replace in meaningful games, if he’s out a long time, but the long list of good PK forwards the Leafs have now will make it easier.

By the way, the Sabres are not officially eliminated from the playoffs. If you want to fight about that in the comments, go for it, but I’m not looking up the math.