Quick Hits: Sabres at Maple Leafs

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The last time the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres played against one another was back on October 21 when the Sabres beat the Leafs, 2-1 in a shootout at the First Niagara Center.

On Monday night, the Sabres and Leafs would meet for just the second time this season at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario Canada.

A late Evander Kane goal in the third period would send the first game to overtime, and eventually the contest would need a shootout to decide a winner. In the shootout, goals from Tyler Ennis for Matt Moulson were enough to get the Sabres just its second win of the young season.

This time around, the Sabres would come back from down 3-1 after two periods to force another shootout. Buffalo would get the game-winning shootout goal from Sam Reinhart to beat the Leafs again in the skills competition, 4-3.

The Sabres were coming off a shootout loss to the Minnesota Wild on Saturday afternoon. Buffalo’s powerplay came alive with two goals on two powerplay attempts, but could not hold down a lead in the third period.

As for the Leafs, they came into Monday’s matchup on a five game losing streak, and losers of nine of the last ten games. Toronto most recently lost to the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night in Dion Phaneuf’s return to Toronto.

Coming into the game, Toronto sat in last place in the National Hockey League with 52 points, while the Sabres were sitting in 26th in the standings with 61 points.

Chad Johnson was back in net for the Sabres after Robin Lehner had started the past four games, while Garrett Sparks would start in net for the Leafs.

It took just 25-seconds for the Leafs to get on the board first in this game. After Josh Gorges went for a hit and took himself out of the play, Leafs forward Nikita Soshnikov fed a pass across for Leo Komarov, who had a wide open net for his 19th goal of the season.

Later on in the period, the Sabres would be faced with a 5-on-3 penalty kill after Kane would take a penalty for goaltender interference and Brian Gionta would be penalized for tripping. After killing off Kane’s penalty, Leafs forward Brad Boyes would get a lucky bounce off the skate of Jake McCabe and into the back of the net for a 2-0 Leafs lead.

The Sabres would later get its chance at a 5-on-3 powerplay later in the period, but the Sabres could not capitalize on the opportunity.

The period would end with the Leafs looking like the better of the two teams. Buffalo just looked very sluggish right out of the gate, and it showed on the scoreboard.

Buffalo’s lifeless play would continue deep into the second period until Buffalo would get on the board thanks to Mark Pysyk. Pysyk joined an offensive rush and went to net after an Evander Kane shot went off the defenseman. Pysyk’s chance would originally be stopped by Sparks, but the puck would slightly trickle over the goal line for his first goal of the season. The original call on the ice was no goal, but after further review the puck did cross and the play was overturned.

The Sabres would then get a bit of momentum towards its way in the final few minutes, but the Leafs would add another goal before the end of the second period.

With 18.2-seconds left in the period, Zach Hyman would net his first NHL goal off a second rebound chance in front of the net. Hyman went to the net alone on a Michael Grabner rebound, and put home his second chance after it came free from underneath Johnson in goal.

The period would end with the Sabres down by two goals once again, being out-shot 20-to-18, and falling behind in shot attempts, 40-to-31.

After taking a roughing penalty along with Nazem Kadri for cross-checking, Jack Eichel would respond with a quick goal after exiting the penalty pox. Eichel raced into the offensive end and was looking for the puck on his stick. Cal O’Reilly would get a pass to Moulson, who would touch it off for Eichel, and the 19-year old rookie would net his 20th goal of the season.

A touch over three minutes later, the Sabres would tie the hockey game after Reinhart stole a clearing pass off the stick of 

The Sabres and Leafs would remained deadlocked at three for the final minutes of the third period. Overtime was needed between these two teams for the second straight meeting this season.

In overtime, Leafs forward Nazem Kadri was called for a questionable tripping call to give the Sabres a powerplay with 2:58 left in the extra time. Eichel came close to ending to game with a one-timer from the point, but his shot was a loud one as it rang off the post. Toronto was able to kill off the penalty to Kadri.

This game would not be solved in the extra five-minutes, which meant this game would need a shootout. The Sabres have struggled in the shootout this season going 1-6 and scoring only three goals on 23 attempts coming into the game. For the Leafs, they were 5-5 on the year with eleven goals on 40 attempts.

Reinhart would net the only goal in the second round of the shootout, while Johnson would turn away the shots he faced to give Buffalo the extra point.

Quick hits time!

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    • So much for the hot powerplay

Just one game after going 2-for-2 on the powerplay, and scoring three straight powerplay goals, Buffalo would finish Monday’s game going…………

The first period powerplays for the Sabres were downright ugly. Of the three powerplay chances in the opening period, Buffalo only put up one shot on goal. Nearly six minutes of having the man-advantage, and Buffalo only got one shot.

Zoinks!

Buffalo would get only one more chance on the powerplay, and this time it was in overtime. Besides Eichel’s shot off the post on the man-advantage, Kane had a chance to win it, but he missed the net.

The powerplay continues to struggle all around, but it is pretty obvious that the top powerplay unit for the Sabres continues to be the only suitable unit on the ice. We will see if the Sabres are able to make any adjustments on the powerplay going into the final 15 games of the season.

    • First period woes continue

First periods for the Sabres this season continue to be very, very bad.

The Sabres have had many problems finding the back of the net in the opening period, as they are dead last in the NHL with just 36 first period goals. Toronto is second-last in the NHL with, now, 39 first period goals.

Over the past several games, it seems like the Sabres come out completely unenthused to play any hockey. Monday was no exception, as Buffalo’s even strength play was bad, and the powerplay could not give the Sabres any life with just one shot on goal. It could be one of the worst period’s of hockey the Sabres have played all season, and it just carried over into the second period.

Do Something!

It is a surprise sometimes that the Sabres do not fall behind by more than two goals more often. However, Lehner, Johnson, and even Linus Ullmark were there to keep the score at bay in the first. But the goaltenders can only stop pucks from going in the net, not putting it in the opposite net.

If there is one thing that the Sabres need to really work on in the final 15 games of the season is to find a way to come out looking ready to play in the first period. Until then, be advised to tune your televisions into the Sabres games at the start of the second period.

    • Leafs continue to Leaf this season

The Leafs were just 20-minutes away from ending its five-game losing streak with a win on home-ice. Instead, the Leafs give up two third period goals, and lose its sixth straight game.

Since the All-Star Break in late January, the Leafs have only won four games and have only earned six points in the standings.

However, we saw the same thing with the Sabres last season when they were playing young, inexperienced kids in the lineup, or just suiting up players who are not NHL players at all. It may be another year or two of rebuild in Toronto, and they better hope they can land a top pick in the Draft Lottery to try to speed up the rebuild process.

Right now, the Leafs are the laughing-stock of the NHL, and it sounds all too funny.

    • Eichel gets his 20th

For Eichel to net 20 goals in his rookie season was a pleasant expectation this year. Many had hoped he would put in at least 20, and maybe get up to 25 goals this season.

With that goal, Eichel has set a franchise mark for being the youngest Sabres rookie to score 20 goals in a season. He surpassed Pierre Turgeon, who scored 20 at the age of 19 and 140 days. Eichel hit the mark just nine days before Turgeon did.

With 15 games left to go in the season, there is still plenty of time for Eichel to score more. With his 20th goal of the season, Eichel is now on a list with some really good players in the NHL today.

All the players on this list did not make the playoffs in their first years in the NHL, but have since had impressive offensive seasons in playoff years on good hockey teams. All of the players on this list are arguably franchise players for their respective teams.

Imagine when Eichel gets the chance to play on a good Sabres team that makes the playoffs year after year. Eichel is seen as a future franchise player for this Sabres team, and he could one day put up similar numbers that the players on this list put up today.

Fun days are ahead of us in Buffalo.

    • We have to do this again tomorrow?!
Facepalm

It was great for the Sabres to come back and get the win over the Leafs in Toronto. However, Buffalo will have to travel back home to take on the New York Rangers on Tuesday night.

While the Rangers will be without Rick Nash, Henrik Lundqvist and Marc Staal in the lineup, they may not have to worry all too much if the Sabres put out an effort like they did on Monday night. The Rangers sit in second place in the Metropolitan Division, and are a more experienced veteran group. If the Sabres play the way they did on Monday, the game could be over in the second period.

At this point, we may just want to cross our fingers and hope that the Sabres can pull off another win on home-ice against a banged-up Rangers team.

Written by Brayton Wilson

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