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Few bright spots in Leafs 5-3 loss to Sabres

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The projected fourth liners were great! The rest.... not so much.

NHL: SEP 21 Preseason - Sabres at Maple Leafs
TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 21: Toronto Maple Leafs Left Wing Pierre Engvall (47) skates with the puck during the NHL preseason game between the Buffalo Sabres and the Toronto Maple Leafs on September 21, 2018, at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, ON, Canada.
Photo by Julian Avram/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

On the second night of a home-and-home with the Buffalo Sabres, the Leafs came out with a lot of fight, but ultimately, Rasmus Ristolainen took it too far and what was a promising game that showed the Leafs depth and versatility, turned into a 5-3 loss and a sour taste in everyone’s mouths.

Michal Neuvirth started in his first game for the Maple Leafs and played very well, stopping 20-22 in the first two periods. John Tavares, Pierre Engvall, and Trevor Moore each scored for the Leafs as well, keeping the score tight the whole way through. Toronto’s incumbent fourth liners from last year — Moore, Nic Petan, and Frederik Gauthier — all had great nights, as did Kasperi Kapanen, who was a menace on offense and defense in the neutral zone. That was the positives from tonight.

Unfortunately, defensively, the Leafs have a long way to go with their veteran players. Despite the goal, Tavares, and Mitch Marner were all on for three goals against, with Jake Muzzin and Ben Harpur also showing up as being on the ice for two goals each. Harpur was 30% in shot attempts in the game at 5v5. The Marlies also struggled massively in the game, Engvall, Jeremy Bracco, and Adam Brooks were all lower than Harpur in terms of shot attempts and scoring chances, with Brooks ending the night 1-10 in corsi.

Surprisingly, those three were spread over two lines and Hudson Elynuik and Nic Petan both had much better games (and more minutes) their their linemates. I’m excited to see what Petan can do in the NHL and what Elynuik can do in the AHL this season.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Forwards

Kasperi Kapanen - John Tavares - Mitch Marner

Trevor Moore - Frederik Gauthier - Jason Spezza

Nic Petan - Adam Brooks - Egor Korshkov

Pierre Engvall - Hudson Elynuik - Jeremy Bracco

Defense

Jake Muzzin - Tyson Barrie

Ben Harpur - Jordan Schmaltz

Kevin Gravel - Justin Holl

Joseph Duszak - Jesper Lindgren

Goalies

Michal Neuvirth

Kasimir Kaskisuo

Buffalo Sabres

Forwards

Jimmy Vesey - Jack Eichel - Sam Reinhart

Jeff Skinner - Dylan Cozens - Evan Rodrigues

Rasmus Asplund - Marcus Johansson - Gustav Olofsson

C.J. Smith - Arttu Ruotsalainen - Curtis Lazar

Defense

Rasmus Dahlin - Rasmus Ristolainen

Henri Jokiharju - Casey Nelson

Marco Scandella - Colin Miller

Goalies

Carter Hutton

Jonas Johansson

First Period

The Leafs had an early power play with Dahlin in the box for holding. They couldn’t get a shot on net and were forced to spin the puck around the boards for the entire two minutes.

Neuvirth made his first save (high blocker) and didn’t end up in the right faceoff dot so I gotta say I’m impressed. I heard Greg Millen say he was very positionally sound and I nearly fainted.

Petan and Korshkov nearly combined for a chance. Petan floated the puck to the far side of the net where Korshkov got his stick on it but just missed the net.

Elynuik and Engvall were able to get away on a 2-on-1, but Ristolainen dove in front of the pass and blocked Elynuik from doing anything but running into the corner.

Marner had a few shot attempts on the following shift, but they were mostly just “spin, shoot, and hope Tavares or Kapanen does something with it.” A good tactic but it didn’t bear fruit as the Sabres really clogged up the middle of the zone.

Ristolainen made up for his good play earlier by almost passing the puck into his own net when trying to reverse it to Dahlin. Four more of those and he might be more popular than Auston Matthews!

Neuvirth stopped a harmless shot on net and then all of a sudden Gravel started punching Lazar. “Well, that escalated quickly.”

1-0

GOAL! John Tavares knocked in a point shot from Muzzin that bounced off Kapanen a little higher in the slot. That fivesome of Tavares, Kapanen, Marner, Muzzin, Barrie looked really good in the first period.

1-1

A few minutes later the Sabres tied the game. Miller whiffed his point shot and bounced off Eichel’s back. Neither Harpur or Schmaltz could find the loose puck and Reinhart took advantage of the spoils. They were a mess positionally.

After One

I really liked Neuvirth’s game in the first period; he was calm, well-positioned, and showed good reflexes with a pair of nice pad saves off rushes.

At first glance, the period was quite even between the two teams; the Leafs and Sabres were tied in 5v5 shot attempts (8-8) and the score was tied 1-1. But looking deeper, the Leafs had the edge in shots (8-7), scoring chances (7-4), and expected goals 0.61-0.54.

Second Period

Muzzin Smash turned into Muzzin Slash when new Jake knocked the puck out of Eichel’s hands. Tavares and Marner started the penalty kill, but once the puck got out of the zone, Tavares swapped out for Kapanen. Harpur and Holl also out on the first unit.

Gauthier, Moore, Barrie, and Gravel took the second unit and were quickly told to come off at the next faceoff when the Sabres switched back to their own first unit a minute in. Clearly that second unit isn’t designed to actually be a dependable unit. Maybe Moore finds his way onto a unit but the other three definitely not.

Holl took another penalty after his unit got stuck in their own zone. He and Bracco just struggled to get the puck out on the right side and it resulted in a hooking penalty against Asplund.

1-2

On the power play, Eichel found Gustav Olofsson open on the left side with a cross-ice pass and fired a one-timer around a diving Neuvirth. Muzzin looked like he got beat by the fake, and Harpur was also there trying to cover a man that he let get on the inside, leaving a 0-on-2 should there have been a rebound.

2-2

Pierre Engvall! After injuring himself in practice earlier in the day, Engvall got rewarded with a garbage goal to tie the game! Kapanen started the play by stopping Ristolainen at the blueline and sending Engvall for a rush the other way. Engvall is a fast skater (though, he doesn’t look it) and was able to catch up to the puck and throw it on net. Somehow Hutton moved off his post and let the puck bounce off his foot and into the net.

To quote Katya, “He’s such an ugly skater, no wonder everyone thinks he’s slow.”

Trevor Moore had a real knack for controlling the game from the wing, especially right after he bursts into the zone and distributes the puck when support comes. He loves that spot right at the side of the net — it’s analogous to controlling the power play from behind the net — and it’s really great to see him having that confidence to do the same thing in the *NHL.

*preseason.

After Two

In the second, the Sabres had a bit of an upper hand, but once again, things were still very even. The Sabres were ahead in 5v5 shot attempts (9-11), and shots (6-7). The two sides were tied in scoring chances (4-4) and expected goals (0.44-0.44).

Neuvirth came out of the game after the period. I thought his play was very good. I largely agree with Greg Millen’s perspective on Neuvirth; he’s a good, dependable backup if he can stay healthy. He came to Toronto because he knows Toronto’s medical staff is the best. If he can stay consistent, he will be a very capable backup.

Third Period

Neuvirth came out of the net at the end of the second, making way for Hutchinson. This is the second time Hutch has come into a game in the third period. Does that seem by accident? Let me know in the comments.

Kapanen has been a really good defensive forward. He broke up several rush attempts at his own blue line with his positioning and stick. He created the Engvall goal and on this play, he created a 2-on-1 for himself and Tavares. For most players standing still at their own zone, this play could’ve easily just been a 1-on-1, but Kapanen is so quick with his first three strides that he can provide that advantage that can really make a difference.

3-3

Trevor Moore can score! While shorthanded for the fourth time in the game — and with Olofsson upside down in the Leafs bench — Moore and Gauthier burst off for an odd-man rush. Moore threw the puck on and buried his own rebound using nothing but his quick stick and unlimited willpower.

The call by John Bartlett on this Moore goal was absolutely beautiful. He uses all the Marlies Moore lines created by Todd Crocker to perfection, which is a really nice touch from an AHL observer.

3-4

The Leafs tried to push late in the game, but got lost battles in their own zone, which led to their fourth goal against. Marner had been invisible after the first period and he was all alone defending the front of the net and couldn’t either tie up Olofsson’s stick as he was coming into the area or cut off the puck.

Big fights. Risto hits Barrie on the knee, got pummelled by a few Leafs for it. Gravel and Reinhart got into it, too, on the complete other end of the ice after Reinhart tried to score.

3-5

ENG.

Highlight of the Night

I’m a big fan of Marner and Nylander skating around like they’re floating on air. But I also like this. That said, I don’t like watching Barrie get run at the middle of the offensive blueline in a preseason game. So maybe I don’t like it too much.