Oh S*%*, I shot Myself in the Foot - Leafs Lose to Sabres 5-4
Following the victory to the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night I wrote that it was time that the Leafs began to play disciplined hockey. While everyone points fingers at both the penalty killing and the referee's, the fact that the Leafs take lazy and unnecessary penalties on a regular basis has been their downfall as of late. This was no different against the Buffalo Sabres on Friday night. With the Leafs being the better of the two teams in the first half of the hockey game things were looking good for the blue and white. After a scoreless first period in which the Leafs outshot the Sabres 14-8, Toronto took an early 1-0 lead when Joffrey Lupul finished off a nice Phil Kessel feed. Both the Sabres and Leafs then traded power play markers, first Drew Stafford for Buffalo followed by the Leafs' Dion Phaneuf. Tomas Vanek replied 19 seconds later to tie the score 2-2. That is when the wheels feel off for Toronto.
The Leafs took four consecutive penalties to end the second period. Leaving them on the penalty kill for the final seven minutes of the second period. They were twice down two men, and the final call was a five minute major and game misconduct to captain Dion Phaneuf. While the Phaneuf hit is arguable, the other calls were not. Tyler Bozak continued to prove to myself that he is an overrated hockey player when he stupidly attempted to tackle Buffalo's Derek Roy while the Leafs were already down a man. Clarke MacArthur chopped down a Buffalo forward like a lumberjack chopping down a tree, and Phillip Dupuis continued the Leafs' trend of inadvertently high sticking opponents. The Sabres surprisingly scored only two goals on all those power plays. The first on an absolute blast by Tyler Ennis and the second on a terrible short side shot by Andrej Sekera that James Reimer needs to stop.
The Leafs were still faced with killing off over two minutes of Phaneuf's major to start the third period, and after successfully doing so they were back in the drivers seat. On five on five the Leafs were the better of the two teams on the night. Nikolai Kulemin broke his 23 game slump when he was awarded a penalty shot midway through the third. Kulemin changed the angle on Sabres goalie Ryan Miller before snapping a wicked shot top shelf. With the Leafs back into the game, and charging hard and the majority of the crowd being pro-Leafs you really got the feeling that Toronto would complete the comeback. The moment had seemingly arrived, Phil Kessel entered the Sabres zone with speed, he cut to the middle with his head up looking at his options...and then he was cross-checked in the back, lost the puck, the Leafs were trapped. Tomas Vanek was released on a breakaway in which he beat Reimer (again) and the two goal lead was restored.
The fact that no penalty was called on that play was ridiculous. I cannot believe that after all the calls that went against the Leafs in this game the referee's allow one of the top players in the NHL to be blatantly cross-checked in the back directly leading to a goal, and no call. It's mind blowing. If that was Crosby, Kane, Toews, Kopitar, Giroux, Stamkos or whoever else you're damn sure that the ref's arm would have went up. Having watched hockey for over twenty five years there is always a make-up call. The Leafs were given four straight penalties and nothing there? I can't believe it.
Mikhail Grabovski responded less than a minute after Vanek's goal setting up a wild final two minutes, but the Leafs couldn't complete the comeback. James Reimer was not good tonight, and while he definitely should have stopped Sekera's goal the Leafs needed a couple of big saves from him tonight that he didn't provide them with.
Men of the Match
Leafs: Mikhail Grabovski - Was at his creative best tonight setting up both Matt Frattin and Kulemin multiple times for great chances. Was completely lost in the shuffle due to the amount of penalty killing time, however found a way to impact the game 5-5. Scored a big goal to get the Leafs back in it late in the third.
Sabres: Zack Kassian - He was the player I said to watch in my game preview and he did not disappoint. His big body was a force most of the game, and he stripped Jake Gardiner to set up Vanek's tying goal in the second period. Baited Phaneuf into taking that five minute major which was the turning point of the game. Look for him to become a huge part of this rivalry for years to come.
Next Game: The Leafs head back home to face the Vancouver Canucks tonight on Hockey Night in Canada.