Photo Credit: Kevin Hoffman/USA TODAY SPORTS
Following up a disappointing shootout loss in St. Catharines, the Leafs went into Buffalo tonight and ran up the score against a similarly built Sabres team. There’s many indications that the Sabres and Leafs’ common development paths will lead them to be strong rivals, but tonight’s game left no real indication of that.
Originally, this was to be Auston Matthews’ Leafs debut, but unfortunately that was pushed back. Instead, the Leafs ran with a group featuring William Nylander and Mitch Marner, along with a steady mix of veterans and prospects.
Lines for the game were:
The better Nylander opened the scoring with a beautiful tip over the shoulder of Kasdorf. The play was set up nicely on a zone entry by Colin Greening, protecting the puck well against the Buffalo defense, looping around the net to find Gardiner at the point. Gardiner lays one of his more common point shots, a flat shot on the ice looking for a stick. That stick was Nylander’s and the game was 1 to nothing.
The Sabres answered a few minutes later on a rush to the net by Justin Bailey that was finished off by Derek Grant, throwing the puck from the side of the net off of Enroth’s back and into the goal. 1-1 tie game.
One thing the Leafs repeatedly did well, which was a factor on both Leafs’ goals, was create zone entries without needing to carry the puck in. Peter Holland recovered a well-placed dump in by Frederik Gauthier to establish offensive zone presence. The play eventually came to Marner who made a pretty pass to Frank Corrado, who set up Holland for a tap in in front of the net on a second nice pass. 2-1 Leafs.
Later, if you’ll let me Pierre McGuire myself, former Belleville Bull Brady Austin accidentally jump kicks a floating point shot from Hunwick into the net, and it’s 3-1 for the Leafs.
The flurry of goals continues as Hunwick takes another point shot, this one far from being a floater, firing a rebound home from a Frederik Gauthier drive to the net. 4-1 for the Leafs, which would bring us to the end of the 1st period.
The second period got underway, and just a few minutes into the period, Kapanen hit the puck off the post while Laich was dumped onto Sabres goaltender John Muse. The puck made its way back to the point, then to Kapanen who slickly worked into the slot for another chance which he buried. 5-1 for the Leafs.
Halfway through the 2nd the Leafs changed goalies from Enroth to Bibeau, and Bibeau was immediately met with a short breakaway which he turned aside.
A short time later, another shot from the point, this time from Andrew Nielsen, which was tipped on the way to the net by Rich “Dicky” Clune. 6-1 for the Leafs.
Jake Gardiner added another goal, this time on the powerplay, to make the game 7-1. It was a bomb of a shot that you don’t get to see often from Gardiner. He usually picks a safer option, which is a big reason he controls possession well. This time though, the cannon finds the back of the net. This brings us to the end of the 2nd period.
Getting into the 3rd period, just 1:37 in, the Leafs added another goal on a tip in at the side of the net from Peter Holland (his 2nd goal), on a shot/pass from Frank Corrado (his 3rd assist). 8-1 Leafs.
Both teams would somewhat coast to the end of the game from here, and the score did finish 8-1 for the Maple Leafs.
This was obviously a dominating preseason performance from the Maple Leafs. The top line was great, Marner was on fire, and the team overall was just clicking nicely. Hopefully wins like this will create morale boosts enough to carry the team into a successful start to the season.
My completely arbitrary 3 stars are:
Other notes include:
- Antoine Bibeau played very solid for his portion of this game
- Frederik Gauthier had simple but effective game as a 4th liner
- Clune displayed what I’d call real toughness, not being goon-ish but defending his teammates
- Colin Greening started the night strong but his offensive abilities continue to be troublesome
- Corrado was excellent, putting up 3 assists, and making his case for a job over Polak and Carrick
The Leafs will return to action on Sunday against the Montreal Canadiens at the Air Canada Centre, at 7:00PM Eastern Time.