Hapless Toronto Maple Leafs Spank Hopeless Buffalo Sabres
After Saturday’s ugly 4-1 loss to the Boston Bruins (5-6-0) at the Air Canada Centre, the Toronto Maple Leafs (4-4-1) desperately needed a strong rebound game. They got one last night at the expense of the lowly Buffalo Sabres (2-8-0).
It was arguably Toronto’s strongest win of the young season – they dominated in almost every facet of the game – and there was little doubt when the final whistle blew that the Leafs were the (vastly) superior team this night.
Things started slow in terms of the scoreboard, however.
The Leafs kept swarming the Sabres’ net with quality shots and chances, but Michal Neuvirth was able to kept Toronto at bay for 39 minutes before surrendering the first goal of the game. Despite the lopsided 4-0 outcome, Neuvirth was easily Buffalo’s best player on the night (yes, the Sabres were this bad).
At times, it looked like a practice session with the Leafs trying different plays and rolling different lines against a helpless Neuvirth. He was a crash test dummy on a night where the Leafs sent 37 shots at the Sabres’ net and enjoyed nine power play opportunities.
Tyler Bozak opened the scoring at 19:10 in the second period. This was quickly followed by one of the – if not the – cleverest goals I’ve ever seen from Phil Kessel in the opening minutes of the third period.
Enjoy the goal in all its simplistic beauty:
James van Riemsdyk and Jake Gardiner would quickly follow this with two more unanswered goals, putting the Leafs in place to secure their fourth win of the season.
As expected, the majority of the play took place in Buffalo’s end, which could’ve spelt a difficult night for Jonathan Bernier. He wasn’t tested often, but he was able to stay focused and stop all 10 shots sent his way. It was Bernier’s first shutout victory of the season and his third win overall.
Before we run ahead of ourselves and label this the greatest Leafs’ win of all time, there is some room for criticism. First, the team was only able to connect on one of nine power play opportunities, underscoring their recent struggles with the man advantage. Beyond that, the Leafs were unable to capitalize on the bounty of quality scoring opportunities that came their way in the first 38 minutes of the game.
Joffrey Lupul is an excellent example of both problems. It was without doubt his best game of the season – he was taking shots, dishing out hits and making life difficult in front of the Sabres’ net – but Lupul ultimately went pointless on a night where he managed nine shots and drove a lot of the action along the back boards.
Looking ahead, Toronto face a tougher pair of opponents this weekend in the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Chicago Blackhawks. If they’re lucky, the Leafs will be able to avoid Sergei Bobrovsky and Corey Crawford, who are both nursing minor injuries.
It’s at this point when the Leafs face a real challenge that we’ll know if they’ve truly put last Saturday’s loss behind them.
What did you think of the game? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.