Freaky Friday - Sabres Defeat Leafs 3-2
Regardless of the standings, or how the teams are playing heading into the game, the Toronto Maple Leafs always struggle in Buffalo against the Sabres. The Leafs were coming in on a four game winning streak with an opportunity to really put the screws to a slumping Sabres team that entered the game on a 2-7-1 stretch. However tonight's game in Buffalo was similar to most Leaf games in the name of the month arena (it's now called the First Niagara Centre).
Before the game was five minutes old the Sabres struck twice past buds goalie Jonas Gustavsson. The first goal of the game was banked off of Leafs defenseman Cody Franson and into the net. Matt Ellis was credited with the goal, the Sabres first in two games. Just over two minutes later Paul Gaustad had his wrist shot hit Carl Gunnarsson in the shin pad and rise past Gustavsson's shoulder and into the net. Regardless of the deflection that was a shot that The Monster should have handled. The Leafs fought back though, and were led by the resurgent Mikhail Grabovski. The red-hot Grabo put the Leafs on the board as he slipped a rebound off the boards through the legs of Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller. Luke Schenn made a great play shooting the puck intentionally wide allowing the puck to bounce back in front to the Leafs centre. Toronto then tied it up after some hard puck pursuit by Nikolai Kulemin caused Sabres defenseman Mike Weber to turn the puck over to Grabo (who else?) in the slot. #84 for the Leafs fed a streaking Joey Crabb who deposited the one-timer past a helpless Miller and the quick Sabres lead was erased. The two points for Grabovski gives him 12 (6 goals, 6 assists) in his last 11 games.
The second period was one in which the Leafs were unfortunate to score. Toronto had plenty of opportunities to take the lead, yet couldn't find a way to score. The Leafs' 3rd ranked power play was put to the test on three occasions in the middle frame, yet was unlucky as Cody Franson hit the post and Nazem Kadri rang one off the crossbar. Kadri had an interesting game as he was unintentionally (however still viciously) knee'd by Sabres sniper Tomas Vanek after he turned him inside out with some fancy stickwork. Kadri lay painfully on the ice during the delayed penalty and seemed to be injured. Keep in mind Kadri missed three weeks to begin the season with a sprained ligament in his knee. The Leafs' top prospect though shook it off and returned to the ice on the man advantage only to hit the crossbar.
The Sabres took the lead for good late in the second period as Schenn lost the puck in the corner only to lose his man - Buffalo all-star and captain Jason Pomminville - in front of the net. Although people may want to condemn Schenn for this mistake, keep in mind he is only 22 and mistakes happen in the developmental process. Vanek made a great pass to Pomminville and he made no mistake beating Gustavsson for the Sabres' third goal of the night. Gustavsson was strong the rest of the way making some great saves off of Derek Roy, Nathan Gerbe and Tomas Vanek providing the Leafs with an opportunity to get the equalizer. It was one of those nights though where the bounces just didn't go the Leafs' way. Every time an opportunity arose for the Leafs to tie it up a stick would get in the way, or the puck would wobble. These games happen, but the Leafs can take some satisfaction from the fact that they battled all night and just came up a little short.
Men of the Match
Leafs: Mikhail Grabovski - As noted above, Grabo is on fire for the Leafs at the moment. He seems to have returned to the form that saw him become a factor every night for the Leafs last season. Look for his second half renaissance to go a long way in helping the Leafs secure their first playoff birth in seven seasons.
Sabres: Paul Gaustad - Buffalo's foot soldier had a good night offensively with a goal and an assist, but his biggest contribution came on the penalty kill as he was a major reason that the Leafs went 0-4 in the game. Was surprisingly poor in the faceoff circle winning only 47% of his draws.
Next Game: Toronto heads back home to host the Eastern Conference leading New York Rangers on Hockey Night in Canada.