WHO STOOD OUT AGAINST TORONTO
Brian Duff's analysis of the Sabres' home preseason game against the Maple Leafs
Game Four of the preseason resulted in the Buffalo Sabres’ first loss despite the fact they never trailed during the course of 65 minutes of play.
Marcus Foligno assumed the team goal-scoring lead with his third in just two games. Back with familiar linemates in Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford, the trio accounted for 17 shots attempted towards the Toronto Maple Leafs goal, the most of any of the forward lines.
With the coaching staff preaching consistency for Foligno, he showed early that he was into things by diving in the neutral zone towards his blue line to break up a pass attempt, which resulted in the Sabres transitioning the other way.
He also dived into the bench at one point to try and get off the ice and avoid a too many men on the ice penalty.
And continuing a trend from late last season, Foligno was one of the team’s best faceoff man on a night when no fewer than 10 Sabres participated in at least one! Foligno, who won 4 of 6, and Matt Ellis (three out of four) were the only positive draw-men, as the Leafs dominated the dots, winning 64 percent of the time.
Ville Leino and Pat Kaleta were the only Buffalo forwards to not take a faceoff. By contrast, Tyler Bozak took 38 of the 67 faceoffs for Toronto, winning 74 percent of them.
Speaking of Kaleta, his late third period fight with Troy Bodie very likely stemmed from the fact that the latter had taken significant runs at Sabre rookies Rasmus Ristolainen and Zemgus Girgensons earlier in the night.
Girgensons was one of only three skaters to not take a turn in the marathon 30-man shootout. Mike Weber and Matt Ellis were the others. Coach Ron Rolston cited a hand injury for the decision to hold Zemgus back.
Playing in his third game of the preseason, Girgensons could have been injured when he blocked a Phil Kessel shot in overtime as the Leafs pressed on a delayed penalty.
Girgensons didn’t show any outward signs that it did happen on that play and, in fact, came roaring out of the box two minutes later to join a two-on-one with Stafford that resulted in James Reimer stopping the Latvian for the sixth and final time in the game.
Aside from matching Stafford for the team high in shots, Girgensons was second in hits with five. The Leafs were keenly aware of his presence all night and took plenty of shots back at him. Girgensons did draw one penalty (on Colborne for high-sticking) but could easily have drawn two or three more.
Mark Pysyk also appeared in his third game and has gotten better each time out.
He’s plus-5 over the last two home games and not only chipped in a goal and an assist, but also prevented the Leafs from opening the scoring on the first shift of the second period. His quick stick on a cross-crease pass from Kessel denied what looked like a sure goal for Bozak.
Leino, Ristolainen, Ennis, Kevin Porter and Brian Flynn were the others appearing in their third of Buffalo’s seven exhibition games. Mikhail Grigorenko is the only one to have skated in all four and despite not seeing a shift in overtime, played 17:47 – his highest to date.
Ristolainen experienced both sides of disbelief when it came to shot blocks on open nets.
On a second period power play he appeared to have at least 80 percent of the net to shoot at with Reimer out of position. However, he hammered it right into the shin pads of Bodie, causing him to look to the rafters. Saving him from further agony was the fact that the goal would likely have been waved off anyway as Reimer’s mask had come off on the play.
However, as is usually the case, things tend to even out.
During a Leafs man advantage early in the third, Jake Gardiner had an open net with Enroth unable to get back to his feet, but it was the stick of Ristolainen that negated a sure goal, sending the puck out of play.
The young Finn ended the night playing more than 21 minutes, mostly with Alex Sulzer.
Sunday will mark the most important game to date for a number of players who are “on the bubble.” Rolston has mentioned often how they plan to make some tough decisions in regards to the roster by Monday. Given that the Maple Leafs will likely be icing a much more offensive lineup in front of their home fans, team defense will be put to the test.