Despite Rasmus Ristolainen not being able to count, the Toronto Maple Leafs fall behind and can’t catch up against the worst team in the Eastern Conference, the Buffalo Sabres, losing 5-3 in a Key Bank Arena filled with Leafs fans.
Frederik Andersen gave up five goals on 24 shots, that’s bad enough for a .792 save percentage. However, if you look at each individual goal, Freddy got every bad bounce imaginable. Deflection. Double deflection. Deflection off a toe. Deflection off a referee. Goalie interference.
In his first game in six days, Connor Carrick takes a high-sticking penalty against Jordan Nolan as the two battle around the back of the net. Sam Reinhart tips a shot from Rasmus Ristolainen through the five-hole of Frederik Andersen for his 16th goal of the season. Nikita Zaitsev continues his stretch of poor play when he missed an assignment in front of the net because he was puck-watching. Kyle Okposo gets the secondary assist for the successful zone-entry.
The Maple Leafs give up a second goal to the Buffalo Sabres in four minutes of play. Ristolainen once again shoots the puck from the point and a forward tips the shot past Freddy Andersen. This time, Jason Pominville is the one who gets wood on rubber, his 11th of the season. On the replay you will see that the shot also deflected off Nazem Kadri’s toe, which is unfortunate.
Either Buffalo Sabres fans are really into the tank battle with Arizona or a whole bunch of rowdy Leafs fans are pissed that they drove two hours for this *expletive*.
The Leafs have been having a terrible time getting the puck towards the middle of the ice. The defense core of that guy from Minnesota and co. have done a good job of pushing the Leafs to the boards and closing gaps, something they have been known to struggle with all season.
“Energy Guy” Matt Martin decides to throw the team on his back mid-way through the period and actually has a good offensive zone shift with his fourth-line teammates Tomas Plekanec, Leo Komarov, Jake Gardiner, and Nikita Zaitsev that resulted in a good chance for Martin in front of the net. If the Leafs chose to sacrifice a little skill for some energy tonight, I can see why it was a good decision.
William Nylander has been all over the ice this game. He has made a turnover or two in the defensive zone, but he’s been active and engaged in all zones, constantly looking for a chance. A shift 17 minutes into the first was a good example of this.
He covered the front of the net while both defensemen were behind the net. Then picked the puck through a maze of feet and sent a strong outlet pass to Connor Brown. In the offensive zone, Willy was skating in small loops in and around everyone on the ice in a hopes to snag a pass by the Sabres. I love Brown and Zach Hyman as much as everyone but it definitely looks like Nylander needs someone he can work with.
Speaking of needing scoring wingers for Nylander, Uncle Leo Komarov speeds past the bad Foligno, grabs a Willy Nylander rebound in front of the net and scores the opening goal of the game for the Leafs on the power play, his first in 13 games. The power play came courtesy of Zemgus Girgensons taking a high-sticking penalty on Kadri. Assists for Leo’s goal at 19:52 go to Nylander and Patrick Marleau.
The assist is William Nylander’s 50th point of the season in his 68th game. Nylander scores 61 in 81 last season, he is on pace for almost exactly the same production this season. Progress?
Despite trailing 2-1 because of a terrible start to the game, the Maple Leafs bounced back and unsurprisingly more than doubled the Sabres in shots (12-5), attempts (15-8), and scoring chances (8-2). All these numbers are good news and a string indicator that the Leafs will come back, but it would’ve been nice if they didn’t have to fall behind in the first place.
The Leafs kick off the second period with a lot more zip than the first. First, Nylander shows off his surprising strength behind the net with a great battle behind the net that stretched an entire shift and explored the entire zone below the goal-line. He won the battle and gave his team an offensive-zone chance and subsequent faceoff, for those who are counting at home.
Mitchell Marner and his line comes out next and successfully hems the Ryan O’Reilly line in the Sabres zone for two shifts. On the second shift, Kadri gets kicked out of the faceoff circle making Marleau take the draw. The Leafs win the faceoff and the play goes behind the net where Kadri gets squished by Ristolainen and Scandella.
Kadri and Ristolainen jaw with each other as they get back into the play but they never get there as the two decide to drop the gloves and fight. Kadri does well against the much taller Ristolainen, landing a few punches and eventually tackling the Sabres defenseman to the ground. Ristolainen tries to get the Sabres faithful excited but then quickly realizes that there are none in the building. Gotta love the sea of Blue and White fans all simultaneously use the same hand gesture.
In other news: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHHAHAHA!!!
Leo Komarov scores his second goal of the game? LEO KOMAROV SCORES HIS SECOND OF THE GAME! With Plekanec driving hard to the net, Martin and Komarov complete the most oh-no-this-is-falling-apart-quickly-just-shoot-the-puck-quick tic-tac-toe of all time and it somehow works! Martin and Zaitsev get the two assists on the play, the 12th point on the season for both of them. Who knew Martin-Plekanec-Komarov would be the best fourth line in hockey. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
The Sabres get their third deflection goal of the same. Whilst being tied by Morgan Rielly, Zemgus Girgensons tips home a Sam Reinhart centering pass from the corner, beating Freddy Andersen to the far side post. O’Reilly gets the noise assist.
More bad luck befalls the Leafs in Buffalo. Ron Hainsey tries to ring the puck around the boards but it hits the referee in the skate, deflecting the puck right to Ryan O’Reilly who beats Freddy Andersen on the short side. Major sigh.
This game doesn’t make any sense. The Leafs played well at the start but by the end found themselves out-shot (10-12), out-attempted (14-17), and out-chanced (8-9). The margins are much closer than the first period so the Buds still maintain an advantage in all three categories overall.
The Leafs start the third like they did the second, all over the offensive zone and clearly looking like the better team.
Montreal’s top prospect for years Nathan Beaulieu tries to do a spin-o-rama at the blueline and promptly gets stripped by Hyman almost immediately. He and Brown have a good chance on the 2-on-1 but fail to score.
A few shifts later, Marner uses his nifty dangles to create space in the offensive zone and find a fresh Nylander barreling down the slot for another good chance.
Hyman would get a third good chance when he faked going back to the point before driving hard to the net for an opportunity for a bang-in goal.
Jake Gardiner starts the shift by being, well, bad. He turns the puck over twice leading to Johan Larsson getting inside positioning in front of the net. Larsson clips Andersen with his skate before grabbing the puck and potting it home. If it wasn’t 2017 or 2018, that goal would get called back for goalie interference, but it’s not and it’s a “good goal.” Pominville and Nolan get the assists on the goal 10 minutes into the period.
The game nears it’s end with the MarKadMar line nearly scoring on one end and Reinhart taking a goalie interference penalty before getting mugged by Rielly and Kadri at the other end.
As the power play expires, Mitchy Marner scores his 18th goal of the season after ripping a shot from the right-side circle with James van Riemsdyk in front. Carrick and Rielly get the assists on the goal.
Ready for three more games of this? Or is it four? I should ask Risto.