The Buffalo Sabres fell 4-2 on Monday night in a much anticipated game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, following an exciting contest between the two teams just 10 days ago.
In the midst of a playoff push, Toronto came out swinging early, scoring three straight goals in the first five minutes of the game. Robin Lehner was pulled after goal number three.
After a lackluster performance against the Islanders yesterday afternoon, fans were hoping to see the Sabres show up strong tonight in an attempt to put a dent in the playoff hopes of a division rival. Eight shots through the first two periods told the whole story. The Sabres just didn’t have it.
Leo Komarov got the scoring started at 4:26, taking advantage of a mis-played puck by Jake McCabe in his own end. After fanning on an attempted clearing pass, McCabe gave the puck away to Nazem Kadri who found Komarov wide open on the right side of the net. Just 35 seconds later, Auston Matthews sniped his 39th goal of the season over Lehner’s shoulder. A mere seven seconds after that, James van Riemsdyk notched his 26th of the year with a wrist shot after Tyler Bozak won a face-off in the Sabres zone. Anders Nilsson performed admirably in relief stopping 38 of 39 shots faced for the remainder of the game.
After registering just two shots on goal in the first period, the Sabres applied a little more pressure on Maple Leafs’ netminder Frederick Anderson with six shots in period two. Ryan O’Reilly scored the lone goal of the middle frame just under two minutes into the period with a short-handed goal. The tally was O’Reilly’s 20th of the season, marking the third time O’Reilly has scored 20 goals in his career. No penalties were called.
The Sabres improved in the third period with 14 shots on goal, however they never truly challenged Andersen and the Leafs’ defensive corps with sustained pressure in the offensive zone. Despite the admirable effort, the shaky Sabres defensive relented early on in the closing frame, allowing Nazem Kadri a clean shot in front of the net, increasing Toronto’s lead to 4-1 and essentially taking the wind out of the few Buffalo supporters left at KeyBank Center.
The middle portion of the period trudged on as Toronto executed a lead preserving, puck clearing defensive strategy to thwart the possibility of a late game collapse. Jack Eichel was able to score his 24th goal of the season on a breakaway with under a minute remaining in regulation, however the Sabres failed to register a legitimate scoring chance with the extra attacker.
This game was indicative of the season as a whole. This team is still very young, and are prone to ugly, game-killing stretches of play. One thing is for sure, Tim Murray absolutely must improve the defensive corps this offseason. This unit has shown time and time again that they are simply not NHL caliber aside from Rasmus Ristolainen who served 12 penalty minutes tonight.
The Sabres will try to end their season on a high note over the next couple games. They take on the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday at KeyBank Center. Puck drop is at 7:30 p.m.