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Recap: Maple Leafs fall to the Sabres 6-4

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Leafs hand the game over in the second period. I’m sure the Sabres are thankful.

Toronto Maple Leafs v Buffalo Sabres Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images

Good afternoon, Leafs fans. Is there anything more fun than a strangely timed game done to suit someone else’s schedule? Is this what it feels like to be a Canucks fan?

For today’s absurdly timed game, I’m going to liveblog the recap for you. Our page won’t auto-refresh, you’ll have to do that yourself, but I’ll try to keep it updated with goal videos (hopefully lots of those) and anything that seems significant, so if you’re actually at work or commuting home, you can follow along.

First Period

It’s time for some narratives! Er, I mean hockey.

The Sabres are playing 11F/7D, and still can’t find room for Rasmus Dahlin. Imagine, for a moment, the coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs healthy scratching a star player, not as a rookie, but in his second season. I’m sure everyone would be calm about it. Whoops. I forgot about that horrible hit on Dahlin. He’s not a healthy scratch.

Leafs let Michael Hutchinson get some saves in right off the opening faceoff.

The second time through the line rotation, the Leafs get a little bit of zone time, but nothing very sustained or exciting.

Leafs getting caught with intercepted passes in the neutral zone, and there’s a lot of up and down with not much fun action.

Okay, you’re getting the “activated defence” rant. Skip it if you want. So it’s so neato, and the defenders are in on the action! Excitement! Fun! Total Hockey!!!. Which is how you get Cody Ceci in the damn slot acting as, essentially, the bumper if it were a power play, and when Ilya Mikheyev needs to pass the puck up to a guy with a shooting lane, the guy is Ceci. Wheee!! Flubbed shot. Total hockey sure is fun.

This is just blindingly stupid. It’s a theoretically sound idea until you remember that defencemen aren’t actually very good at forwarding with very rare exceptions. Do you want to do this when the fourth line is out there with two nullification fields in Dmytro Timashov and Frederik Gauthier? Go for it. Do you want Morgan Rielly and Tyson Barrie thinking offensively? Yes. Otherwise, calm this crap back down, and stop trying to turn pinching into an ideology.

Wow, great save by Linus Ullmark on a William Nylander breakaway.

Ullmark repeats the feat on a not all that hot John Tavares shot and then on a sweet Nylander move again.

Sabres take a tripping penalty with four minutes left. The Buffalo player is pleading innocence, but oddly, it’s not working. Andreas Johnsson, uh, sold that pretty hard.

If you missed the last game, the PP1 setup has Barrie on the left wing position.

Okay, that was horrible. Bad setup, weird no-look pass from Nylander than gets intercepted, and now they’re setting up and only a minute has been wasted before they get one shot off.

PP2 is actually better at the setup, but can’t really scare you with their talent.

Leafs cannot gain the zone, they look a little hopeless, the Sabres are a little worse, so the Leafs get it over to Rielly who passes it back to Mikheyev, and this time it’s John Tavares in the slot, not a defenceman.

1-0 Leafs.

There’s a leprechaun fight in the Leafs zone and Travis Dermott and Conor Sheary are tussling, and they both take roughing minors. And that’s the first period.

Thoughts

  • We were told that the Leafs were moving to a man-on-man defence of a more extreme type than in the past, and it sure looked that way back in Phoenix, and it didn’t look like it was something the Leafs were really capable of. But the last two games, the Leafs look like they are doing a five-man box defensively that looks like a PK with a guy in the middle. That’s often the Bruins’ style, and it takes out a lot of passing lanes. I like the five-spot a lot, but it requires a lot of discipline to not go chase the puck.
  • The Sabres are much harder to play against than the Red Wings (this is news, I’m sure).
  • The spin back around on a line change is great, now shut up about it, Ray.
  • Leafs are playing decently well, but not fabulously, and the Sabres are frankly just not up to their level:

Second Period

Tavares grabs a turnover, mmmm turnovers, and roars up ice, gets the puck back... oh, Linus. Oh, honey, that’s bad. Ullmark almost had another great save and then he just did a dumb.

2-0 Leafs

Hutchinson suicide passes it to Kasperi Kapanen, who gets caught by Brandon Montour trying to leave the zone, and then... that just goes in because backup.

2-1 Leafs

Jason Spezza is off for holding, and the Sabres bad power play gets an outing.

OMG. Kappy has the puck for half an hour and gets three shorty chances. He draws a penalty on the play.

The Toronto power play is almost as good as their PK, and they get some chances.

Um, well, that didn’t go well. Jack Eichel comes out of the box and just roars up the ice on a three-on-one. He never considers a pass, Hutchinson never considers a save.

Tie Game

Sabres do some work and Casey Mittelstadt tips it. Hutchinson would have needed to be Carey Price, uh, no, Pekka Rinne, uh, no, Freddie, yeah, that’s it. He’d have needed to be Freddie to save that.

3-2 Sabres

Oh, good, so the fourth line gets out there, and Gauthier takes a penalty. This game is turning very Leafy, very fast.

The Leafs PK, which is suddenly aggressive again after several games of dullness, is easily the match of the Sabres power play.

The Sabres, who really aren’t as good a team, are a good enough team, a smart enough team to be disrupting the Leafs attempts to gain the offensive zone. Then they take a penalty because they aren’t that smart.

This power play should be deadly. It’s just a little scary at its most potent.

Jack Eichel is... hold that thought, he’s scoring a setting up a goal after Kappy lets a glove-passed puck go by him:

4-2 Sabres

Okay back to the thought... about 60% of all that’s good on the Sabres.

And that’s that disaster show of a period.

Thoughts

  • Ray opened the second period with a video montage of the Leafs having passes picked off or the pinch biting them in the ass. This is going to happen, and it will happen more and more against better teams. The question is: will they gain and hold the zone enough to make it worth it, and if they don’t, what’s plan B?
  • The broadcast incorrectly implied that the fourth line is playing less and Auston Matthews is playing more. The reality is that the fourth line usage is up because of the time spent leading. Matthews and Tavares are unchanged.
  • If you’ve noticed I’m not complaining about Justin Holl, it’s because he’s barely in the game. Despite the lineup card, the Muzzin-Holl pairing is essentially the third pair, and Holl in particular has next to no minutes. Now that the Leafs have Leafed, and need goals, I assume that will be even more extreme.
  • Hutchinson is not great, but this was a shitastic period against a team they need to be able to get their offence working against.

Third Period

Honesty compels me to admit I’m having a pre-supper snack, so a light report on this period.

Leafs draw a penalty on a good bit of pressure from Mikheyev.

With all this skill, how can this power play be so bad?

Two Sabres trying to rough up Nic Petan, and the Leafs let that go on for a long time before someone wanders up to help Petan. Some things Leafs haven’t changed.

Leafs could use some quality chances, and I’m seeing a lot of Petan and Engvall on the ice. These two things don’t add up to me. Try some top six.

You’re welcome. you owe me for my famous reverse jinx. Timashov dumps the puck in and Spezza sets him up for a beauty.

4-3 Sabres

Well that’s the dagger. Jimmy Vesey grabs a nice juicy Matthews turnover, and he’s got ages to deke out Hutchinson.

5-3 Sabres

Kappy! This does look a lot like the goal Spezza set up, only it’s Petan this time. Forget what I said, third line all the time.

5-4 Sabres

Hey, here we are in a one-goal game because the Leafs couldn’t drive play for most of the game. They’ve been under 50% in Expected Goals and Corsi since the midpoint of the second.

Matthews with a couple of shots on Ullmark as they get their now famous cycle going. This is the first time all game that Matthews has done any meaningful shooting, however.

Leafs pull Hutchinson and make one final push after a timeout.

Eichel gets the ENG to end it. 6-4 Sabres.

Oh wait no. There’s a penalty shot with less than one second because Dermott interfered with his breakaway. And Rasmus Asplund fails to get his first NHL goal this way.

Thoughts

  • Spezza having a decent five-on-five game, which is not usual. Possibly his best of the season.
  • Let’s debate the backup! He got done by some good Sabres play, and by his own inability to make saves in any traffic. The Leafs played very badly for two periods and he was not their saviour.
  • Rielly, Ceci and the Matthews line were totally blown out by the Sabres in shot share.
  • With all this skill, went the internet meme, why aren’t the Leafs dominating? Good question. Why did they turn this game over to the Sabres after going up by two?