It seemed like it was going to be one of those games again. The Sabres completely outplayed the Leafs and looked like they were going to get the short end of the stick once again. Evander Kane’s goal late in the 3rd period changed all of that, and the Sabres went on to win in the shootout.
The Buffalo Sabres played an excellent hockey game start to finish. They outshot the Leafs, 35-24, outhit them, 29-20, and won the faceoff battle, 39-28. Those are all substantial victories and are a great sign for this young Sabres squad.
The numbers don’t tell the whole story though. It was the activity of the forecheck, keeping the puck in the zone for extended periods. It was a good day on special teams with sharp, quick, clean passes on the power play and excellent rotation on the lone penalty kill. It was being in position and limiting the chances that got through to Chad Johnson. They looked like a quality hockey team all night long.
Speaking of Chad Johnson, he played a heck of a game and should be proud of this effort. He gave up a goal in the first 90 seconds of the game and then stoned the Leafs for the last 63 minutes. On the goal, it was standard rotation from Toronto and a shot from the point. P.A. Parenteau got a nasty tip on the shot, and Johnson stood no chance on the redirection. No harm, no foul, nothing Johnson could do about that one.
Johnson stood on his head the rest of game. His two biggest saves came in the biggest situations. One with about 20 seconds left in regulation, after a Mark Pysyk turnover behind the net, Leo Komarov ended up with the puck on his stick alone in front of the goal and he was turned aside. The other was in overtime, where Johnson made a ridiculous toe save on Nazem Kadri that would have ended the game. Hats off to Johnson on a great game.
The other important draw from this game was the amount of excellent chances the Sabres had. Give tons of credit to Tyler Ennis who was all over the ice. He only had two shots on goal but was controlling the puck and setting teammates up all game long.
He also single handedly drew the interference penalty on Matt Hunwick late in the 2nd period with his hustle. He finished his check into the boards on Hunwick, who was a little irritated with Ennis. Hunwick went right after Ennis instead of trying to play the puck which led to the call and the Sabres had a nice power play opportunity before the end of the period. Ennis led the Sabres with 24:36 on ice.
Ryan O’Reilly was an excellent distributor as well. The biggest opportunity from him came around the three minute mark of the 2nd, when his pass from behind the net found Zemgus Girgensons with an open portion on the adjusting Jonathan Bernier. Girgensons fired wide, but it was a great chance.
Jack Eichel once again showed how savvy he is for a young kid. A little after Girgensons’ chance, he won a face off and carried the puck in himself, and Morgan Reilly had absolutely no idea how to defend Eichel. He was nifty with the stick handling and got a shot off that went way high and wide, but it showed what his capabilities are.
This was one of the best performances of the young season, and the Sabres need to keep the momentum going as they square off against the undefeated Canadiens next. Puck drop is set for 7 p.m. on Friday at the First Niagara Center.