The Sabres fell to the Toronto Maple Leafs this evening 3-0. Fielding a roster of mostly AHL caliber players (against a Maple Leaf squad that featured most of their NHL regulars), the Sabres kept themselves in the game, down only 1-0 with two minutes remaining, despite being out-shot 35-18. In the waning moments of the contest, Toronto potted two empty net goals to seal the deal.
Missing from the Sabres squad were cornerstones Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, Rasmus Ristolainen and several others. Expect the Sabres to dress a higher octane roster tomorrow night against the Leafs in front of the home crowd at Key Bank Center.
Phil Housley’s team struggled yet again to stay out of the penalty box, committing nine minor penalties on the evening. Despite playing nearly an entire period short-handed, the penalty kill unit performed more than admirably in front of Linus Ullmark, only allowing one power-play goal.
Ullmark was easily the best player on the ice for the Sabres, stopping 34 shots on goal. After a lopsided first period where the Maple Leafs out-shot the Sabres 14-5, he kept Toronto off of the score sheet, thwarting several chances from point-blank range. In a contest that could have easily gotten out of hand, the 24-year-old showed that he may be ready for NHL action sooner than later.
“He played great tonight” said Ryan O’Reilly. “He was the one reason why we were in it. He stayed steady all game.”
It is a virtual lock that Ullmark will spend a majority of the season in Rochester, though his performance tonight could have Jason Botterill intrigued. Sabres’ starting goalie Robin Lehner is currently signed on a one-year “prove it” contract. If Ullmark can continue his impressive play with the Amerks, he’ll give his GM options heading into next off-season.
One under-the-radar player who continues to show well during preseason action is defenseman Matt Tennyson, who was paired with Jake McCabe on the Sabres top unit. After scoring the late goal to force overtime game against Pittsburgh on Tuesday, Tennyson was a key member of the Sabres penalty kill tonight, blocking several prime opportunities in front of the net. Though it is a near certainty that he will start the season in Rochester, the 27-year-old Minneapolis native has made a strong case for himself as an early call-up should injuries strike the Sabres’ roster.
The results tonight were not far from what was expected of a roster that featured Benoit Pouliot and Stevie Moses on the first line. While it is apparent that the Sabres rested a majority of their starters for tomorrow’s showdown in Buffalo, the lineup performed admirably, fighting until the very end to keep the game close. It’s preseason, but if Housley can inspire this type of perseverance and tenacity from his players this year, it could make for a very interesting campaign.
Tune in tomorrow for the Sabres first televised game of the preseason. They will face the Maple Leafs for the last time until the two clubs meet in March. Puck drop is at 7PM.