Toronto scrambled to catch up in the team’s first two official preseason games, falling 6-2 and 5-2 to the Ottawa Senators early this week.
The team turned things around for their third preseason tilt on Friday night, though, solidly taking control of their matchup against the Buffalo Sabres for a 3-0 shutout win over the divisional rivals.
It’s preseason. Preseason doesn’t matter. Undefeated preseason teams sometimes still suck.
Still, this was a great showing for a promising Leafs corps.
Toronto solidly took control against Buffalo, finding nine shots on net before the Sabres managed to record a shot of their own a full eight minutes into the game.
They kept that control for nearly the entire game, outshooting their opponents by a silly margin and managing two empty-net goals in the final two minutes of the game to earn their first win of the preseason (and a combined shutout for Curtis McElhinney and Garret Sparks).
The first goal of the night came from Morgan Rielly, who capitalized on one of Toronto’s many power plays through the night to put the team up.
Linus Ullmark solidly kept his team in the game from there, and the Sabres stayed trailing by just one goal until the final two minutes of the game.
At that point, though, Buffalo pulled their goaltender – and with empty-netters from both Leo Komarov and William Nylander, the game was over.
While the Leafs took less than half as many penalties as the Sabres did, the slew of special teams remained a constant as the preseason nears a close.
Looking at the number of penalties taken (the Sabres grabbed 9 penalties and the Leafs chipped in with 4 of their own), you’d think the game was an absolute gongshow.
While it’s frustrating to see that much penalization for a reasonably clean-looking game, though, it’s worth remembering that it’s not likely either team will take anywhere close to this many penalties throughout the regular season. As players grow acclimated to the new levels of enforcement by the officials, they’ll adjust their games, and we’ll start seeing games move at the pace they normally do.
I was pleasantly surprised by Linus Ullmark. (I know none of you care, but I’m going to tell you anyway). He’s been a prospect I want to see succeed, and his game – even though it was just a preseason tilt – was a promising step towards seeing him as a full-time NHLer in the future.
McElhinney didn’t get to see much action, with the Leafs holding Buffalo to just 14 shots against during his two periods in net, but he put up a reasonably decent backup performance in the process. There was nothing game-changing about his play, but he made the saves he needed to and didn’t get caught with his eyes closed.
Sparks stood in net for the third period, so there wasn’t much of a sample to go off of for his play. But he managed to hold down the fort for the combined shutout, which is a solid way to finish off the game.
While every other game on tonight boasted highlights, rosters, and statistical info on the NHL site and TV app, this one lacked anything:
So there isn’t much to go off of other than preseason eye test, which says a few things:
- The Leafs were the dominant team by far. They looked more organized, more cohesive, and far better at driving the puck up the net than the Sabres. Were they perfect? No. But if tonight was any indication, Phil Housley has a WAYS to go with this group.
- Curtis McElhinney is still Curtis McElhinney. He’s never going to be a starter. He’s not nearly as bad as people like to make him out to be. Don’t listen to Scott Wheeler, he doesn’t got a damn clue what goes on in net.
- Josh Leivo is a h*ckin workhorse, man.
- There was some hesitation about William Nylander being able to replicate his success from last year, with such mediocre even-strength results. If his preseason performance is any indication, he’s still going to be quite, quite good (but we knew this, really).
That’s all for tonight! Next game is tomorrow night at 7 pm. You’ll enjoy that recap much, much more than mine.