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Maple Leafs beat Sabres 5-3

A strong outing from the boys in blue

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at Toronto Maple Leafs Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

First Period

  • [17:53] The Matthews line with Ceci/Dermott barf up the puck a couple times in their own zone, leading to the first real chance of the game for the Sabres. Andersen does well to save it.
  • [17:30] The Leafs get the second real chance of the game, and they take it, through an unlikely source in Frederik Gauthier. Timashov gains the zone and tries to take on Brandon Montour who pokes the puck away. It falls to Gauthier who walks in and rifles one past Linus Ullmark. 1-0 Leafs.
  • [16:05] The Matthews line gets a full 30 seconds of offensive zone time and does absolutely nothing with it, which is frustrating. They look completely out of sorts.
  • [13:49] Some brilliant passing from Marner and Rielly nearly finds Barrie for a tap-in. That Tavares line seems to have a much better idea of how to use their movement within the zone to create chances than the Matthews line does.
  • [12:29] Ceci and Dermott have had an awful 7 minutes to start the game. They can’t do anything offensively and are defensively error prone thus far.
  • [10:26] The Leafs third line of Alexander Kerfoot, Pierre Engvall, and Ilya Mikheyev get another 30 seconds or so of zone time, but it doesn’t culminate in any dangerous chances.... or indeed, any chances at all.
  • [10:01] Marner makes a couple brilliant moves and nearly sets up Nylander (who had yet to change) for a tap-in. The final pass is just a little awry, but Marner (and that line in general) has been amazing to start the game. Rielly/Barrie has been too — the Sabres haven’t tested them defensively yet.
  • [7:46] A turnover in the neutral zone by the Sabres springs a 2-on-0 breakaway with Tyson Barrie and Ilya Mikheyev. The latter passes to the former but Barrie is robbed by Ullmark. Absolutely amazing save. The Leafs did everything right there. It was a great play by Barrie to jump into the play, seeing how poorly spaced the Sabres were, it was a great play from Mikheyev to pass to him, and it was a great shot too. Ullmark just made a better save.
  • [6:22] I’ve criticized some Leafs players for fruitless possession, but it’s worth noting that it’s a problem that implies possession of the puck, which means the Leafs aren’t defending. So it’s a win in that sense, even when it wasn’t clicking offensively. And on the whole, they’ve created some great shots, though a lot of that has to do with some pretty inept Sabres defending.
  • [3:34] The Tavares like is just owning Jack Eichel’s group right now. It’s very impressive.
  • [2:17] I’m comfortable saying that Total Hockey just doesn’t work when Cody Ceci is on the ice. It’s not in his repertoire.
  • [0:00] Strong period for the Leafs. Basically everyone not named Cody or Travis were good. Rielly / Barrie were excellent, and I say that as someone who has despised that pairing thus far. Buffalo has no clue how to defend Tavares and his linemates, who were the best forwards on the team in that frame.

Second Period

  • [19:22] The Tavares line picks up where they left off, with Marner dominating the play as a passer.
  • [18:14] Barrie is doing a good job of picking his spots offensively — Nylander finds him in front and his shot is well-saved by Ullmark.
  • [18:05] Saying that, the Sabres get a good chance through Jeff Skinner going the other way that arises from the Leafs having trouble picking up their opposing numbers as the result of Barrie’s activation. I wouldn’t say it’s Barrie’s fault — it’s on the rest of his teammates to pick up for him when he pushes forward (within reason), but it’s something the Leafs often struggle with in general.
  • [15:31] The Sabres finally force the Tavares line to defend, but it’s not the Eichel line that does so, which makes it far less dangerous. The Leafs do a good job of it, frankly.
  • [15:13] As the puck goes the other way, Rielly gets the puck and finds Auston Matthews with a great cross-ice pass. Matthews unleashes an absolutely hellacious wrister that beats Ullmark. 2-0 Leafs.
  • [14:11] Matthews hits the post on the next shift, though the Eichel line comes back and generates a good shot of their own against Matthews and Ceci/Dermott. It’s quite end to end now, as Nylander banks a puck off the end-boards to create a chance for Kerfoot, and moments later, Engvall has a partial breakaway.
  • [9:55] Andersen saves a shot off the stick of Sam Reinhart but has no clue where the rebound goes. Mercifully, the rebound somehow stays out.
  • [7:54] Buffalo takes a hooking penalty — Leafs to the power play. Girgensons hooks Mikheyev.
  • [5:54] Solid power play, but nothing earth shattering from the Leafs there.
  • [2:22] Oh, what a goal from Matthews. Man, that was pretty. Nylander gains the zone and finds a trailing Matthews. He undresses Conor Sheary and then Ullmark, going backhand roof for a really really pretty goal. 3-0 Leafs.
  • [1:55] One thing I want to mention in the lead-up to that goal. Rielly and Barrie miscommunicated earlier in the shift that aborted a breakout, but Matthews helped out with a strong play on the puck which eventually allowed Barrie to get it to Nylander. In general, Matthews has had an excellent defensive game, and Barrie/Rielly haven’t had to play much in the defensive zone, where as we know, they’re much weaker.
  • [1:55] The other thing worth mentioning is that after that little mess-up, Rielly got on his horse and drove the net, forcing the Sabres defenders to respect him. This gave Matthews the lane he needed to work his magic. It’s a great example of individual offense not being perfectly correlated to on-ice offense. Rielly is not credited in any way for this goal, but he made a really important play that helped it happen.
  • [0:12] Tavares takes a penalty. Sabres to the power play.
  • [0:00] Hard to complain about that frame, eh? Another solid one for the Leafs, with the big boys leading the way.

Third Period

  • [20:00] Sabres start this period on the power play.
  • [18:31] Eichel passes to Dahlin who rips a point shot by Andersen. Not much to be done about those shots. You’re happy if a power play consists of point shots, but sometimes they’ll go in. 3-1 Leafs.
  • [17:20] Matthews and Nylander dance around the Sabres for 20 seconds, and then give the puck to Ceci. The play dies 4 seconds later.
  • [15:01] The Sabres have a strong shift, but Timashov gets behind Ristolainen and takes a breakaway pass from Tyson Barrie. Timashov does the rest, sliding it five hole on Ullmark. Excellent pass from Barrie there, who has had what I think is his best game as a Leaf. 4-1 Leafs.
  • [14:08] Okposo hits Dermott away from the play (insert my periodic complaint about how NHL refs dont call interference). Dermott is slow to get up, no call.
  • [13:31] Jack Eichel latches onto a bank pass as he gains the Leafs zone, and fires a shot from the circle past Andersen. Like the Matthews shot, there’s no saving that. 4-2 Leafs.
  • [13:01] I make it a point to not really discuss refs, but man, that was an egregious no-call on Okposo. Interference, boarding, take your pick. That’s not a good hit.
  • [11:39] Matthews has had a brilliant all-around game today. This is the game that gives you hope that he can become an elite two-way centre.
  • [9:19] Score effects are certainly part of this, but the Sabres are pushing pretty hard and the Leafs are turtling somewhat. That said, they’re not conceding a ton of high value chances, so it’s not all bad.
  • [8:03] Kapanen has been a total afterthought on his line — the lines numbers are good (as they should be, mostly matched up against Sabres depth), but it’s been all Matthews and Nylander driving the bus.
  • [5:20] Andersen loses a rebound and Okposo crams it into an empty net. That was a bit of a disaster in the Leafs’ zone, as they barf up the puck on multiple occasions with the chance to clear. Nylander does so once, and though the puck gets out of the zone, it quickly comes back in, and after a disorganised mess from the Leafs players, Okposo has the easiest goal he’ll score in a while. 4-3 Leafs.
  • [5:05] And of course, Jack Eichel draws a penalty on Zach Hyman. Sabres to the PP, with the Leafs reeling.
  • [5:05] The natural thing to think is ‘same stupid chokey Leafs’. I gotta be honest, that one disaster shift aside (which led to the 4-3 goal), this hasn’t been an awful third period from them. It’s not been great either, but this isn’t as bad as it seems to me. That said, what looked like a comfortable win now is in considerably more doubt.
  • [3:11] Sabres pull the goalie and get the 6-on-4.
  • [2:38] It works against them this time, as Ilya Mikheyev breaks up a play and pots the empty netter. 5-3 Leafs.
  • [2:24] That should just about do it for this game.
  • [0:00] And it does! Overall, a very positive performance from the Leafs. The top forwards were very strong, as were Rielly / Barrie on the defensive side. I don’t think I noticed Muzzin / Holl the entire game, which makes sense, because they pretty consistently stifled the Sabres. The turd in the punchbowl was Ceci and Dermott, who were really really poor, especially considering how much of their time was spent squandering Matthews’ line zone time.