TORONTO – The Buffalo Sabres found themselves behind the eight-ball early against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday. They managed to put together a strong final 40 minutes but it wasn’t enough as Toronto won the second game of the home-and-home series between the two clubs 4-2.
Toronto was ahead 2-0 and the first period and held a three-goal lead after two. They also possessed a big advantage in shot attempts in the early stages of the game. However, the Sabres were able to rally back and make it a one-goal game in the third.
“There are a couple things I’m looking at and evaluating and that’s one of the things,” Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan said. “I want to see how in a situation like that going into the third period, you’re down 3-0 and things don’t seem to be bouncing your way. There’s two ways you can go: Not compete and forget it or believe. But I was very impressed with the way they competed.”
For the Maple Leafs, James van Riemsdyk scored twice and Nikolai Kulemin added a third. Mason Raymond made it 4-2 on the power play with 1:04 to play in the third period. James Reimer stopped 33 shots.
Nolan took over behind the bench on Wednesday and players can already see how his influence and insistency on hard work is shaping their play on the ice.
“I think there’s noticeable compete change in the last couple days. You can see it. Everyone can see it. It’s nice to see obviously,” Ennis said. “It was a loss and a tough first period, but the compete has been a lot better and the tempo’s been a lot better. We just have to play 60 minutes.”
Toronto scored twice with the man advantage and it was Raymond’s goal late in the third period that killed a rally by the Sabres. Ville Leino was sent to the box for tripping Joffrey Lupul with 2:46 remaining in regulation. Raymond scored to make it a two-goal game 1:42 later.
“We can’t take that. We had full momentum and I think he got a little bit frustrated and then just took the guy’s feet out from underneath him,” Nolan said. “Those are a couple things we’ll have to adjust.”
Leino addressed the penalty after the game as well.
“Yeah, I think it’s just a tough call too,” he said. “But yeah, I definitely don’t want to take a penalty there.”
Of course, while the Sabres appear to be making progress over the past few days, the result means another loss in the standings. Buffalo still sits at the bottom of the standings with 11 points in 22 games.
“You find out the reasons why the record is the way it is and we got off to a little bit of a slow start. I was more impressed with the game tonight than last night,” Nolan said. “I thought we played much better. I thought the majority of play was in their zone the whole third period and the last part of the second period, so I was really impressed. We have some corrections that we have to make and I’m looking forward to doing that.”
Toronto scored first as van Riemsdyk redirected a point shot from Cody Franson in past Enroth 5:45 into the game. The goal came 18 seconds the Maple Leafs had a goal called back because it was kicked into the net.
His second tally came with 6:25 remaining in the first on the power play. Eight seconds after Christian Ehrhoff was sent to the box on a holding penalty, the Maple Leafs worked the puck around off the face off. Once again, a shot from Franson glanced off van Riemsdyk and in.
Buffalo was unable to get off to the great start they had Friday night. After the first period on Saturday, the Sabres were out-shot 10-6, but shot attempts favored the Maple Leafs by a 26-7 margin.
The Sabres were unable to convert on either of their power-play chances in the second period.
Kulemin made it 3-0, scoring his first goal of the season with 8:11 remaining in the second period.
McBain scored 2:15 into the third period after some strong play in the offensive zone by the line of Zemgus Girgensons, Marcus Foligno and Brian Flynn. Girgensons curled out from around the left wing corner and threw a puck in front of the net that ended up in the offensive corner.
The puck made its way back to McBain, who had pinched up from the point. He unloaded a slap shot that beat Reimer for his second of the year.
“We just did a great forecheck and he just got the puck to me and Flynn’s got the retrieval. I don’t know if I tried to shoot it or pass, but I got it to [McBain] and he scored,” Girgensons said.
Of course it wouldn’t be a true Toronto-Buffalo game without a few dustups. At 4:12 of the first period, Sabres captain Steve Ott dropped the gloves with Toronto forward David Clarkson after a hit he put on Sabres defenseman Jamie McBain at the Buffalo bench.
Nolan specifically praised the efforts of his captain.
“Steve Ott was definitely a competitive son of a gun,” he said. “His type of attitude is going to rub off on this team.”
Then, early in the third period, Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf lost an edge skating out of his own zone, and as he fell, bumped into Sabres center Cody McCormick and tripped Sabres wing John Scott. After the next whistle, Phaneuf cross checked McCormick and a scrum developed inside the Toronto blue line. Players paired up and the officials did their best to step in.
As a result of that skirmish, Scott received two roughing minors and a 10-minute misconduct and McCormick received a roughing minor. On the Toronto side, Frazer McClaren was called for two roughing minors and a 10-minute misconduct, Colton Orr was slapped with a roughing minor and a 10-minute misconduct and Phaneuf received two minutes for cross checking.
Ennis scored 37 seconds into the power play to cut the Maple Leafs’ lead to 3-2 at 6:11 of the third.
“I think it shows that we can compete. We have good character. I like that,” Ennis said. “I like that we fought back and unfortunately we took a penalty with a few minutes left but we showed some fight.”