Leafs 3 v. Sabres 4: Opportunities Lost
I was lucky enough to get a pair of tickets to see this game but unfortunately I forgot to take my camera so I couldn't get any pictures. The short version is that the Leafs should have won this game and wasted a chance to take two points from a strong team that played very poorly.
The Sabres entered the game having lost their last two games to the sens and Pens and were ripe for the picking. Throughout the game the Leafs' forechecking pressure led to a number of turnovers, odd-man rushes, and penalties. Unfortunately, a mixture of solid goaltending by Martin Biron and AHL-level finishing left the good guys on the short end of the end result. The Leafs were able to convert on two powerplay opportunities but failed to tally on a 5-on-3 early in the third period which came back to haunt them when John Pohl missed a yawning cage in the last 30 seconds.
As should the Leafs, I came away from the game disillusioned that they had lost two points. The first two goals were products of terrible giveaways which resulted in the Leafs being pinned in their zone and a pair of long, screened shots. The other two goals were momentum killers. Carlo scored on a long shot before the end of the first period on a flutterball from the point as the Leafs began to really pile on the pressure. Then some terrible defending on the rush allowed Danielle Briere to finish a tic-tac-toe passing play by rounding Raycroft. Alex Steen tallied on a 5-on-3 to bring the Leafs back to within one but a soft goal took the wind out of the Leafs' sails. Ales Kotalik was allowed to stop and fire off a good wrist shot by Tomas Kaberle and Andrew Raycroft went down early which allowed the shot to make it over his shoulder and under the bar. Of course, that one questionable goal ruined what was otherwise a strong effort by the Leafs' # 1.
The biggest thing that I noticed was that the Leafs were absolutely killed in the faceoff circle. Matt Stajan won only 3 of 16 faceoffs and it seemed to me that the Leafs lost almost every offensive zone faceoff including three in the last two minutes of the game. This deficiency played a huge part in the loss since the Leafs were constantly losing territorial advantages on the powerplay and at crucial times [I'd have looked like a genius if I had posted this on time considering today's pickup].
A bright spot in the game was that the Sabres held their diving in check for the most part except for one incident involving Maxine Afinogenov and Bryan McCabe. McCabe gave him a little tap in front of the net and Max went flying in the air before he stood up and proceeded to try to deliver a cross-check to the Leafs' face. I am not sure but that looked like intent to injure. Of course this is how Tom L at SabreRattling:
Max with the huge cross-check in retaliation for McCabe’s stupidity. Smart play by Max. We’re better 4 on 4 then on the PP.
So the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. The irony is that the Leafs next game is against the Hurricanes who Sabres fans universally pan as the worst divers in the league. Glass houses and all that.
As has been the case in so many lossed the Leafs failed to capitalize on their chances and the little things killed them. A stronger presence in the faceoff circle would have helped the Leafs maintain the Sabres zone and a bit more composure from the backend could have saved the Leafs a couple of goals. I wish I could say it got better against the 'Canes...