The Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the struggling Buffalo Sabres Thursday night at the Air Canada Centre 3-1.
From opening face-off the Leafs brought a pace that the Sabres couldn’t match. Both goaltenders, Ryan Miller and Ben Scrivens, took turns making eye-popping saves.
Even though the Leafs came out with a high pace and extreme pressure, it was Buffalo’s Tyler Ennis who broke the ice in in the opening frame. At the end of the period though, the Leafs forced a Sabre penalty.
The Leafs took the power play into the second period and with just seconds left on it, Phil Kessel fed Dion Phaneuf for a one-timer to tie the game at ones. With that, the Leafs demanded control of the period. Kessel came back minutes later and rung the bar for probably the hundredth time this season.
Buffalo had a goal waived off in the period due to goaltender interference prior to Steve Ott putting the puck in off the rebound. The Leafs continued to roll with the momentum as Kessel nearly buried another point-blank shot shortly after. After a series of power plays, the Leafs began a full-court press style that seemed to give Buffalo even more trouble.
But the momentum was halted when Toronto was called for too many men on the ice, putting the Sabres up a man. Marcus Foligno got a pass all alone in front but lost the handle on the puck.
Leo Komarov then took the puck the other way on a 2-on-1 but was stopped by Miller. James van Riemsdyk suddenly took his turn with the spotlight, entering the zone and going around everybody, then to the blueline before finally getting a good chance on net.
Before the period ended, JVR took a beauty pass from Kessel to put the Leafs up 2-1.
The men in blue came out more defensively in the third period and the momentum began to tilt the other way until the midway point of the frame.
Tyler Myers coughed the puck up to Komarov who nearly beat Miller. But just seconds later, Nazem Kadri forced a penalty and not long after that, Jochen Hecht put the puck in the crowd. The Leafs made good on the two-man advantage as JVR found the twine again shortly after being robbed by Miller.
The Leafs successfully closed out the game, skating to a 3-1 win.
Speed Kills. The Leafs came out flying and the Sabres couldn’t keep up. Kessel and Grabovski entered the offensive zone at will and Kadri’s line was once again instrumental in another Leafs victory.
Steady goaltending was another key to the win. Scrivens looked sharp, holding rebounds and slowing the pace whenever it got out of hand. There were a couple nervous scrambles in front of him, but all in all, it was another solid performance.
Team defense was impressive once again. This team seems to take strides forward every week and nothing more noticeable than the defensive hustle and awareness. The Leafs have certainly bought into head coach Randy Carlyle’s philosophy and it’s become evident. The compete level is worlds apart from the Ron Wilson days with guys like Kessel and Kadri making enormous plays at both ends.
The Leafs will visit the nation’s capital Saturday night to face the injury-riddled Ottawa Senators for the second edition of The Battle of Ontario.