To say Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller stole the show in Toronto last night would be an understatement. But despite his heroics, the Leafs squandered huge opportunities on the man-advantage in the eventual one-goal game.
The game started with a fast pace both ways. Early penalties resulted from a questionable hit and a great heavyweight tilt between Colton Orr and the 6-foot-8 John Scott.
That’s right, probably for the first time in his career, Orr was looking up to someone while going toe-to-toe. Nonetheless, after a few good exchanges, it was Orr who dropped the giant with a body shot.
However, it would be the Sabres who would find a spark from the affair, as Christian Ehrhoff’s point shot found its way through a crowd in front of Ben Scrivens. Cody Hodgson ended up redirecting the puck past the helpless net-minder to open the scoring less than nine minutes into the game.
Hodgson took a penalty just seconds after his goal, but Toronto’s first power play was largely ineffective. The Leafs would find hope before the end of the period when the Sabres took back-to-back penalties, giving Toronto an extremely long 5-on-3.
Scoring chances came-a-plenty and captain Dion Phaneuf blistered a shot off the iron. Steve Ott then closed his hand on the puck, giving him a ticket to an already crowded sin bin.
The Leafs forced three or four more good chances, but Miller stood tall and escaped the period unscathed; a huge opportunity missed for the buds.
Tyler Bozak opened the second frame with a great chance, but couldn’t pull the trigger in front of Miller as the Leafs began to swarm the Sabres zone. This would back-fire just minutes into the period when Sabres captain Jason Pominville capitalized on a defensive pinch and scored on an odd-man rush.
The Leafs nearly found twine again on another power play, but Miller read the cross-ice play to make a spectacular save on Jean-Michael Liles. The Sabres would get their own man-advantage before period’s end and Scrivens would make a huge glove save to keep the Leafs within striking distance.
The Sabres played a perfect trap in the third period as the clock began to wind down. Scrivens made another enormous save with five minutes left.
After what seemed to be a million opportunities, Nazem Kadri would score his second goal in as many games to cut the deficit to one with under two minutes remaining.
Hodgson would give the Leafs another golden opportunity by taking a late penalty. With the goalie out, Toronto had a 6-on-4 advantage.
Joffrey Lupul appeared to tie the game with a deflection in-front and the lid came off the building.
However, replay showed that as the puck redirected towards him, he punched it in the net with his glove. No goal.
Phil Kessel would then find himself with the game on his stick with Buffalo’s goal-mouth wide open, but he could only make a back-hand stab at the puck and it sailed just over the top-right corner.
The game came down to the final tick of the clock, but to no avail. The Sabres would escape Toronto by the skin of their teeth and on the heels of Ryan Miller’s strong performance.
Looking back on the first period, the Leafs could have really iced this game early; or at least changed its complexion.
Keys To Defeat
The Keys to Victory coming into this game included staying out of the penalty box and capitalizing on the man-advantage.
The Leafs seemed to stay out of penalty trouble on a night where the score-keepers kept busy with multiple fighting majors and coincidental minor penalties and they Leafs all three short-handed situations they faced.
The powerplay, on the other hand, was disappointing to say the least. The Leafs were a dismal 0-for-7 with the man-up, including two 5-on-3 situations. In a one-goal game, this proved to be the difference. This failure also goes hand-in-hand with Miller’s inhumanly monstrous game.
Ryan Miller always seems to come up big versus the Leafs, doesn’t he?
Miller has a career 2.44 goals against average versus the Maple Leafs with a .922 save percentage. However, last season the Leafs went 3-2-1 against Buffalo with all three wins coming at the Air Canada Centre.
“They’ve been kicking my ass the last two years a little bit so it’s time to get back at them,” said Miller. “We’re in one of the biggest cities for hockey, it’s great to come and play in front of these fans.”
And get back at them, he did.
Miller posted 34 saves on 35 shots, with the only goal coming off a knuckler from the point, which ricocheted off the boards behind the net and right onto the stick of Kadri. Leafs fans got the sense very early that this was going to be “one of those games” where Miller would be an absolute stone wall.
At the other end, Ben Scrivens played well also. Though he didn’t face more shots last night than he did in the season opener, the degree of difficulty was evidently higher. He finished with 18 stops on 20 shots and two or three big saves.
Overall, head coach Randy Carlyle commended the boys for their solid effort from start to finish. The chances came on the powerplay, but the Leafs just couldn’t solve Ryan Miller.
While the result is disappointing, leaving such a hard-fought game empty-handed in the way of points, the Leafs played well. There doesn’t appear to be a lack of toughness either. The game was a scrappy one and more than one fight resulted.
The Leafs will travel to Pittsburgh Wednesday to take on the Stanley Cup-favourite Penguins, who are 2-0-0 on the season.