The Leafs took on the late-stage Buffalo Sabres tonight.
The Matthews line gets some early zone time, putting several shots on Sabres goalie Chad Johnson. During a shift of sustained Bozak line pressure, the Sabres’ Jacob Larsson gets hit in the face with a puck, which required some on-the-bench stitching.
Andreas Johnsson zoomed up the middle of the ice past the Sabres for a partial break and gets a good chance going sideways on Johnson (keep your Johnsons in order, folks.)
Despite the Leafs being all over the Sabres early, Buffalo gets goal number one. Jack Eichel knocks the puck free from Auston Matthews on an aggressive forecheck; Zegmus Girgensons recovers it in the corner and throws it to Eichel in front of the net. Eichel steps around Andersen to score, and it’s 1-0 Sabres.
The Leafs engage in some sloppy defensive zone play; a giveaway by Rielly stands out especially but there are others. Matthews at least seems determined to compensate for getting beat on the goal by pickpocketing everyone on the Buffalo roster who dares to touch the puck. He raises some hell in the Sabres’ zone and backhands the puck just wide.
Kasperi Kapanen does a dancing little lap around most the Sabres’ zone. The Leafs have the better of the play offensively.
Tomas Plekanec and Kasperi Kapanen run a two-on-one, and Chad Johnson makes an impressive save to keep Kapanen’s shot just barely out.
Off a giveaway Matthews absolutely rifles a wrist shot off the post. Damn. Connor Brown fights off Ryan O’Reilly in the corner and the Leafs get more slot shots that are turned aside. Damn!
The Leafs are getting shift after shift in the Sabres’ zone now, but they can’t beat Johnson and/or the post. On the other hand, in their own zone, the Leafs are tossing the puck away with abandon; Nikita Zaitsev has a rough giveaway against the Eichel line. Clean it up, guys.
Matthews is making absolute hay in the offensive zone but still no goals. A mid-change line of JVR, Bozak and Hyman narrowly misses. Despite approximately nine billion chances, the Leafs do not score, and they go into the intermission down 1-0.
The Leafs had a ludicrous amount of offensive pressure. It’s frustrating it didn’t pay off, but they had 70% of the shot attempts and the heat map looked like this:
The defensive zone play from Toronto was, as ever, gross, but the Jack Eichel goal was just a great player making a great play. This has been frustrating, but, well, this happens sometimes. Keep at it, guys.
The Leafs keep on comin’. Ron Hainsey winds up firing a pair of shots on net. Kasperi Kapanen gets hit in the face but seems okay. Roman Polak crushes Larsson with a check, then the Leafs have a rush that ends in a spicy rush shot from Matthews. No goal though. Figures.
Kapanen dances in and misses over the net. He’s been flying tonight. So have the Leafs as a whole, really.
The Sabres get a tremendous chance only to be robbed by Frederik Andersen; Eichel finds Jordan Nolan at the side of the net and Andersen zooms across the crease laterally to make a pad save.
Kapanen and Plekanec get in again on a partial two-on-one; Kapanen makes a pass to Tomas but Plekanec misses the net. Flying, I tell ya.
The Matthews line gets more shots, and Christ, when will one of these go in? The Leafs have literally four lines that are swarming all over the place and it’s still 1-0 Sabres. A lot of the pressure isn’t ending in really high-grade chances, but shit, man. The fourth and first lines in particular look bonkers.
Worth noting: Roman Polak does an excellent job closing off Jack Eichel, who is by far the most dangerous Sabre tonight.
Finally, finally, the Leafs break through. Patrick Marleau charges in to forecheck the puck loose to Mitch Marner. Marner throws to Nazem Kadri, who throws a tricky shot from the high slot for his 30th of the year. 1-1.
Back-to-back 30-goal seasons for Naz, who is playing tough competition night in, night out. Phenomenal.
Right off the next faceoff, Jason Pominville takes a high-sticking penalty on Patrick Marleau shortly after. The Leafs’ second power play unit cashes in: Gardiner throws to Matthews, Matthews shoots it, Marleau cashes the rebound. 2-1 Leafs all of a sudden. Woo! That’s how the second ends.
Look, the Leafs have been absolutely stomping the Sabres anyway you slice it, except for a couple of unsightly defensive lapses and some great work by Jack Eichel. Literally every Leaf player is currently a CF positive, and every single line looked to be swarming, which is why it was so frustrating to be down 1-0 for 35 minutes. Special award goes to Kasperi Kapanen, who is absolutely dancing out there. Matthews is buzzing as well, and could easily have a goal of his own to go with his assist. And old man Marleau has 1G, 1A.
The Leafs keep right on coming early. Johnsson stands out with his speed, especially. The Leafs have a lot of chances, but no goals, and, well, guess what...
Following a good chance by Kyle Okposo, Casey Nelson fires a point shot, which goes off Roman Polak’s skate and deflects past Freddie. No chance for Andersen. 2-2.
The Leafs challenge for goaltender interference, mostly because you might as well roll the dice, but it fails. I think this is the right call.
Things go bad to worse. Jack Eichel goes most of the way around Nikita Zaitsev, then fires a short-side shot that Freddie Andersen probably should have had. Not a great showing from either Leaf there. 3-2 Sabres.
The Leafs, once again, keep coming, but they aren’t getting rewarded. JVR has a fantastic snapshot in the high slot with Johnson saves, and the play ends with more action but no Leaf goals. I don’t really know how to write the same thing over and over here. Toronto is dominating in zone time but it’s not enough.
The Leafs pull the goalie with about two minutes to go. You can guess how that went. 3-2 is your final.
- Look, the Leafs outplayed the Sabres to hell in this one, Chad Johnson played a great game, and Toronto lost. It happens and it isn’t likely to change the Leafs’ seeding, so I wouldn’t get too fussed over it.
- Kapanen and Johnsson are like greased lightning on that fourth line, and they could easily have had a goal or more between them. I suspect Komarov is going to bump Johnsson next game and I’m a little down about that.
- The Leafs’ defence did not have a good night in its own end (does it ever?) Zaitsev failed to stop Jack Eichel completely on the goal, but Rielly looked pretty brutal on a couple of giveaways. The main strength was how rarely the Leafs actually wound up in their own end, and the defence does get some credit for that.
- Credit where it’s due to exactly two Sabres: Jack Eichel and Chad Johnson. You’d never know it because his team sucks, but Eichel is a legit franchise centre, and he was great tonight. Chad Johnson had 38 saves and won the Sabres the game. Buffalo as a whole, though, is a really bad team.
- Adjusted CF% in this game, if you’re wondering, was 61-39 Toronto at 5v5. You will win most games where that happens and where you’re getting good chances. The Leafs did. Don’t sweat it./