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Pre-Season Recap: Auston Matthews and the Marlies beat Sabres 3-2

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Would last years Sabres be able to beat last years Marlies in a seven-game series?

NHL: Preseason-Toronto Maple Leafs at Buffalo Sabres
Sep 22, 2018; Buffalo, NY, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (34) celebrates his goal during the second period against the Buffalo Sabres at KeyBank Center.
Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

A split-squad Toronto Maple Leafs team beat a fully-loaded Buffalo Sabres squad by a score of 3-2 in regulation on Saturday night in Buffalo.

Auston Matthews, Jeremy Bracco, and Calle Rosen each scored a goal in the win. Auston had seven shots in the game, and it didn’t even look like he was trying.

Frederik Andersen allowed two goals on 21 shots, including a power play goal against. Back-up goalie contender Calvin Pickard saved all 14 shots he faced in the third for the win that doesn’t really matter.

First Period

Andreas Johnsson showed his smarts early in this game with a few quiet, but important plays. The Maple Leafs were battling hard to get the puck up the boards and out of the zone, and when it got to near the point, Johnsson deftly checked behind him and threw the puck to the wide open opposite side of the ice for his defenseman (I think it was Rosen?) to skate into and get relieve the pressure. I thought that was a really good play and something Mike Babcock would fawn over in the video room.

He also had a really good chance on a partial break and nearly beat Sabres goaltender Carter Hutton. He followed the puck to the net, and if it were not for an early whistle, would’ve given the Leafs another crack at scoring.

0-1

After a tough shift in the defensive zone where Igor Ozighanov inadvertently blocked a shot, Adam Cracknell took a puck-over-glass penalty as he tried to relieve pressure.

Early on the power play, Kyle Okposo — who is back to playing hockey, thankfully — grabbed the puck at the top of the left circle and wired a shot past a screened Frederik Andersen in net. Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart get the assists on the goal.

And as soon as I praise Johnsson for his quietly good play, he takes a cross-checking penalty 10 minutes into the first. C’mon, man, you’re making me look bad in front of the internet.

“Buffalo have won 13 of the 14 draws so far in the game.” Thanks, Sportsnet.

Even after two power plays, the Leafs are still only behind in shots 6-8.

The Johnsson - Par Lindholm - Kasperi Kapanen line has been very good early in the game. Aside from Matthews, they’ve had the most chances of any line. As a group, they move around the middle of the zone really well and it really helps them get good chances. In time, Johnsson could become a real menace in front of the net. Most of his effectiveness comes with his smarts and positioning, so learning the league a little bit better will help him immensely.

NEW LINES!!!

Seeing Kapanen up with Matthews is music to my ears. Remember this goal? Ohhh yeaaaaaahhhh!

Buffalo get a third power play chance in the period after Emerson Clark — who was turning heads up until this point — took a tough roughing penalty.

Old man Patrick Marleau showed his class on the following kill at both ends of the ice. First, he was able to get good body position on Eichel as they fought for a rebound in the middle of the ice. Marleau was able to spin off the acne-covered 21-year-old and clear the zone.

Later, he stripped Rasmus Dahlin of the puck at the blueline after the young defenseman tried to dummy him in a very risky position. Marleau was very close to beating Hutton through the five-hole on the ensuing breakaway, but the door was closed just in time.

After One

Beyond the three penalties — which shouldn’t be taken lightly — the Leafs generally did well against the Sabres in the first period. The Leafs led in shot attempts 18-12 — and were even better when looking at Fenwick (unblocked attempts) — in total shots, the Buds were ahead 11-7, and they were ahead 7-6 in scoring chances for.

For a team that’s playing the best version of the Buffalo Sabres they can put out in the preseason, that’s pretty good. Or does that just say more about where the Sabres are right now?

Second Period

Clark and Tyler Randell drop the gloves for a fight two minutes into the second. The two fought for a good minute, accomplished nothing, and got sent to the box for five minutes each. Way to make an impression, boys.

Here’s a great shot from the fight. Throw some edits on that puppy and you got a pic from 1999.

NHL: Preseason-Toronto Maple Leafs at Buffalo Sabres
Sep 22, 2018; Buffalo, NY, USA; Toronto Maple Leaf forward Emerson Clark (58) and Buffalo Sabres forward Tyler Randell (64) fight during the second period at KeyBank Center.
Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

1-1

Matthews scores from Ennis! Ennis picked up the puck at the blueline, and did a great job to delay long enough for Matthews to skate through exactly five Buffalo skaters and beat Hutton with a perfect tip to the top corner with one hand. There’s no question that I would rather have William Nylander in that 1RW spot, but Ennis is sure doing a great job filling in.

2-1

Bracco scores and gives the Leafs the lead! The line — featuring Adam Brooks and Trevor Moore as well — that could be the Marlies first or second trio do a fabulous job winning puck battles in the offensive zone and getting positioning in front of the net. Brooks got the puck to Justin Holl at the point. Holl then put a great floater to the net that Bracco was able to brilliantly tip home, giving the Leafs the lead.

The Leafs have now led 2-1 in all four games in the preseason so far. Does that mean anything? Probably not.

Nikita Zaitsev got called for a questionable holding penalty on Eichel, but the Leafs — mostly Freddy — were able to kill it off. I’m kind of glad the Leafs are getting lots of opportunities to practice their penalty kill against one of the better power plays in the league. I know it’s weird to say, but Buffalo really did have a good power play last year.

2-2

Jeff Skinner, who is a Sabre now, ties the game late in the second period. The Leafs, including Lindholm, Ennis, and Jake Gardiner, got caught watching Reinhart bust his way through them all to the front of the net. Skinner was left all alone at the side of the net and made no mistake with the goal.

After Two

The Leafs continued to out-perform the Sabres in terms of shot metrics and were able to come away with more goals than the Sabres in the period. Toronto was out-Corsi’d 17-20, but they led in shots 11-9 in the period and even at 8-8 in scoring chances.

Also, Matthews leads the game in shots so far with six.

Third Period

Calvin Pickard steps into the net to replace Freddy for the third period. After Garret Sparks’ tough game on Friday, Pickard has a real opportunity to move up in the organizational depth chart.

Andrew Nielsen hits Tage Thompson hard from behind with a blindside hit along the boards. Thompson is clearly not happy and goes to fight Nielsen not long after. As the two wrestle to the ice, Nielsen gets in an extra shot that enraged Thompson and the Sabres. Nielsen is falling farther and farther away from the NHL every time I see him, and dirty plays like that are exactly why isn’t getting any love from the team and fans.

Pickard has looked really solid in net for the Leafs so far. He’s battled well through mazes of bodies, he stays in his net and keeps his positioning very square, and he feels like a very stable presence back there. Also, he’s a really great guy.

3-2

Rosen gives the Marlies Leafs the lead mid-way through the third period as the Marlies power play unit converts. With Carl Grundstrom doing his thing in front of the net, Brooks teed up Rosen for a point shot from the middle of the ice. The low shot was able to get through the maze of legs, and between Hutton’s, too.

Ennis and Trevor Moore were on the ice for the goal, as well, and helped bring the puck up the right side of the ice and into the zone.

The third then followed the Marlies model that led them to the Calder Cup to the tee:

1. A strong neutral zone trap, along with a strong forecheck, that keeps the opposition from getting settled. Kapanen did this to great effect when he chased the Buffalo player in circles around the Sabres net.

2. Lots of shots from wherever a lane opens in order to force faceoffs in the offensive zone. Gardiner hit the post on one of these shifts after some great play by the Lindholm line.

3. Late in the period, neutral zone mistakes by the Sabres create odd-man rushes the other way for the Leafs. Grundstrom had one of these with two minutes left in the game, but missed on the short side.

And as the clock ticks down, the Sabres give one final push, but can’t get the puck to the middle of the ice for the life of them and the Leafs win the game.