The Buffalo Sabres held on to defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs, 3-1, at the Air Canada Center Saturday night. An outstanding first period, paired with a phenomenal performance in net by Robin Lehner, allowed the Sabres to secure their first victory of the season against their rivals to the north.
Lehner saved 43 out of 44 shots against. This game was a hard hitting, aggressive affair from the opening face-off, adding fire to an already intense Atlantic Division rivalry.
A near perfect opening frame allowed the Sabres to take a 3-0 lead into intermission. Evander Kane opened the scoring at 4:13 with an excellent point-blank wrist shot past Frederik Andersen. Less than one minute later, Sam Reinhart notched his 12th of the season from an excellent 2-on-1 pass from Kyle Okposo.
Kane would score again, registering his 18th of the season at 18:02, burying an outstanding pass from Jack Eichel. Eichel assisted on all three Sabres’ goals, giving him 16 on the season.
“We jumped on them early, and we were rewarded for it,” Eichel said. “The next 40 we did enough to win the game, and that’s what’s important.”
Robin Lehner closed the period, stopping an onslaught of shots through traffic in the crease as the buzzer sounded. Marcus Foligno may have had the hit of the season as he buried Nikita Zaitsev, knocking him into his own bench.
Dan Bylsma’s squad came out firing early on in the second period, testing Andersen early, however their energy seemed to diminish as the period ticked on. Lehner’s impressive performance continued into the second period where the Leafs remained scoreless until 15:57 when rookie sensation Mitch Marner tallied his 15th goal of the season. Leading up to the goal, the Sabres’ penalty kill unit killed off the first two penalties against a second ranked Toronto power-play unit, but eventually conceded with Josh Gorges in the box for tripping.
Going into the closing frame, the Maple Leafs seemed to gain some momentum from their home crowd. The entire period felt like a power-play for the Leafs as the Sabres completely took their collective foot off of the gas.
A high flying offensive first 30 minutes turned into a strategy that focused solely on clearing the defensive zone. Buffalo registered a mere four shots on the period compared to Toronto’s 19. Luckily for the blue and gold, Robin Lehner was able to thwart all of them, including several very close calls in front of the net.
The Sabres came away with two points against one of the teams they need to keep pace with in a crowded Eastern Conference. While the victory is the most important take-away, the Sabres were extremely fortunate not to let this one slip through their fingers after a very ugly final 20 minutes.
It may be a symptom of a young team still going through growing pains, but it seems odd that this team seems simply incapable of playing hard for three periods. It could also be attributed to the playing style that Dan Bylsma implements in-game. Regardless, if Robin Lehner can build confidence and consistency from tonight’s rock-solid showing, the Sabres could find themselves in the thick of the playoff race come April.
The Sabres will have to get some rest tonight as they are back at it tomorrow against the Vancouver Canucks at Key Bank Center. Puck drop is at 7:30pm.