Recap: Leafs Chase Lehner With Strong Second

It was the first game between Jack Eichel and Auston Matthews – former teammates with the U.S. Development Program. While one had a big night in the face-off circle that included a goal, the other struggled to get things going.

But that wasn’t the only storyline coming out of Tuesday’s matchup between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres. The rookies took over again for the Leafs in the divisional game as the team started off the second half of their season with a big win. Both teams got some depth scoring from their fourth liners and the Leafs lost an important body early in the game.

But as Sabres-Leafs games usually go, it started off one-sided and took a full 20 minutes before it turned into an entertaining game between the two clubs separated by a highway.

First Period

The first period belonged in large part to the Buffalo Sabres. Sure, both teams notched nine shots on goal, but the Sabres dominated the loose pucks and took advantage of their opportunities.

That being said, some of their opportunities were handed to them. Buffalo’s Kyle Okposo opened the scoring in the first period when Frederik Andersen looked to clear the puck past an oncoming William Carrier. The puck went right to Okposo in the middle who fired it past the Leafs goaltender who remained out of position to make the save.

The goal was briefly reviewed for goaltender interference, but it didn’t take long for the referees to determine it was, in fact, a good goal.

The Sabres potted another in the closing minute of the first period when Evander Kane fired a puck that squeaked under the pad of Andersen. While it was certainly a goal the Leafs and Andersen wanted back, the Sabres finished the period up two against a divisional rival where the two points mean a lot.

The Leafs also lost Rielly in the first frame to an undisclosed lower-body injury which saw a number of players on their back-end seeing a big increase in ice-time on the night.

Second Period

The second frame was almost a complete 180. Again, both clubs recorded equal amount of shots in the period (10), but this time the Leafs took advantage of their opportunity and got some help with some bounces going their way.

It didn’t take long for the Leafs to get back into the game Kadri entered the Buffalo zone and fired a puck on net. Leo Komarov was going hard to the net and the puck took a bounce off the Leaf forward and got past Robin Lehner just 32 seconds into the period.

Following the goal, the Leafs would give Buffalo the first power play of the game when Marner received a two-minute minor for tripping Zach Bogosian. The Sabres weren’t able to restore their two-goal lead on the power play even with their three shots and that would prove costly.

The Leafs came back just six minutes later and it was an unlikely scorer who filled the Buffalo net with the game-tying goal. For Matt Martin, it was his third goal of the season and it was as simple as firing the puck towards the net. For the Leafs, it was just another lucky bounce.

With that, the Leafs were off to the races and just 1:20 later, it was Matthews who potted his 22nd of the year to give his team their first lead of the game. Matthews took the feed high in the slot and fired it top shelf on Lehner who didn’t stand a chance on the quick shot.

The goal not only gave the Leafs the lead but resulted in Buffalo coach Dan Bylsma pulling his goaltender in place of Anders Nilsson. Lehner allowed three goals on just 16 shots through a period and a half. The Leafs took the 3-2 lead into the third something that haunted them in a number of games this season.

Third Period

Entering the third period, Matthews held the edge in the matchup against his former U.S. National teammate Eichel. His Leafs also held a one-goal edge. But the scoring didn’t stop there (of course).

It was a late power play for the Maple Leafs that gave them a two-goal lead. After Bogosian went off for tugging down Connor Brown, it was James van Riemsdyk that scored a pretty goal at the side of the net – the first on Nilsson since replacing Lehner.

But the Sabres didn’t go down without a fight. With just over two minutes left, the Sabres scored another late goal on Andersen when Carrier knocked a puck out of the air to make it a one goal game again.

However, the Leafs were able to shut down the Sabres offence for the remaining two minutes and picked up two big points against another division rival and a team that is headed in a slightly different direction than them. It was the first time this season the Leafs won after trailing by two goals at some point during the game.

As for the Matthews-Eichel matchup, here’s a look at their final numbers. Eichel finished with a minus-one rating, six shots on goal, one hit, one blocked shot and 28 percent in the face-off circle in just over 19 minutes. Matthews had a more successful night in their first matchup. In nearly 18 minutes, he scored a goal on five shots, had one blocked shot and finished 72 percent in the face-off circle.

Regardless, this wasn’t just a Matthews versus Eichel matchup. Andersen and van Riemsdyk also came up big in helping the Leafs carry on their hot play of late in picking up another two points solidifying their spot in the division – for now.

Scoring Summary


BUF – Kyle Okposo (13) unassisted

BUF – Evander Kane (12) assisted by Brian Gionta and Jake McCabe


TOR – Leo Komarov (8) assisted by Nazem Kadri and William Nylander

TOR – Matt Martin (3) unassisted

TOR – Auston Matthews (22) assisted by Zach Hyman and Connor Brown


TOR – James van Riemsdyk (16) PPG assisted by Mitch Marner and Nikita Zaitsev

BUF – William Carrier (4) assisted by Zemgus Girgensons and Brian Gionta

THW Three Stars

First: James van Riemsdyk (GWG, 3 shots)

Second: Auston Matthews (1 goal, 5 shots and 72 percent on face-offs)

Third: Brian Gionta (2 assists, 2 shots)


New York Rangers at Toronto Maple Leafs

Air Canada Centre – 7:30 p.m. EST on Thursday, January 19

Broadcast channels – TSN4 and MSG

2016-17 Season Series: Maple Leafs lead series 1-0-0