The Toronto Maples Leafs spoiled head coach Ron Rolston’s NHL debut as they defeated the Buffalo Sabres 3-1 at the Air Canada Centre Thursday evening.Ryan Miller’s superb goaltending was not enough to make up for the sloppy defensive play and the inability to get any sustained offensive pressure on the Leafs. Buffalo pushes their losing streak to three games as the Leafs take a 2-1 season series lead and jump 9 points ahead of the Sabres in the Northeast Division.
The story of the first period was the outstanding play of both Ryan Miller and the Leaf’s Ben Scrivens. Both net minders put on a clinic during the period, each stopping several point blank opportunities. The Sabres as well as the Leafs had several defensive lapses to start the game and it finally caught up to Toronto at the 13:20 mark. Tyler Enis picked up a loose puck deep in the Sabres zone and took off up the ice where he shuffled a pass off the boards to Drew Stafford. Enis continued his push to the Toronto net and recieved the pass back from Stafford where he snapped a beautiful wrist shot over the right shoulder of Scrivens for his 6th goal of the year.
It didn’t take the Leafs long to equal things up in the second period. With the help of a late first period holding call on Sabre defenseman Alexander Sulzer, Toronto began the period with 1:18 left on the power play. The Leafs kept steady pressure on the Sabres for the remainder of the penalty until Toronto’s Dion Phaneuf recieved a cross ice pass from Phil Kessel and blasted a shot past Ryan Miller to knot the game up at 1-1.
The second period remained tied up until the 18:04 mark when Phil Kessel grabbed the puck near center ice and skated into the Sabres zone. Kessel headed to the net where he laid a perfect pass on James van Riemsdyk’s stick for the easy tap in to make it 2-1. it was van Riemsdyk’s 10th goal of the season and his 9th point in the last nine games.
Buffalo found themselves in a very familiar situation to start the third. Trailing by a goal and facing a good defensive team with a hot goalie was to much to overcome. Play went back and forth for much of the period until Buffalo started getting into penalty trouble. With Kevin Porter out for tripping and Jochen Hecht off for delay of game, James van Riemsdyk notched his second of the game and 11th of the year at the 14:28 mark. Toronto’s two man advantage worked to perfection with Cody Franson finding van Riemsdyk standing alone to the left of Miller for the easy tap in. With their victory, the leafs improve their home record to 4-4 and overall record to 11-7-0.
Both teams will enjoy a day off before resuming play Saturday night. The Maple Leafs will travel to Ottawa to take on the Senators, while the Sabres will head home to tangle with the New York Islanders.