Toronto invaded HSBC Arena tonight. Here are just some quick thoughts about the game as the Zamboni circled.
After the First:
-Vanek and Pominville can each crack open their piggie banks, put all their nickels together, and it still wouldn’t matter. Guys can’t buy a goal. Last year, Vanek would have had that partial breakaway but things just aren’t going his way thus far. I’m sure things will come around, but how long do we have to wait? As for Poms, he’s credited with two missed shots so far, but it seems like a lot more. The plus side is that they’re generating the chances. The minus is that they haven’t been able to capitalize on them yet.
-Very up-tempo game, nice to watch after a few tighter-checking games lately. One of the better periods we’ve seen Buffalo play all season. The team is skating very well. They’re fun to watch again, at least for tonight. Leafs-Sabres games have been fun, high scoring affairs the last few years and it looks like that trend is going to continue tonight.
-Goose is continuing to be a presence, especially in front of the net. Just give the guy the “C.” Whether it was goaltender interference or not is a moot point (and you have to be able to forger about that non-goal very quickly). Gaustad set a tone for the team that they weren’t going to give up ground around the crease. The Sabres set up shop down low for most of the period and even though they don’t have a goal to show for it, their efforts will wear down the Toronto defense in the end. Or so we hope.
-Miller only faced four shots, but looked very sharp when challenged. I’m not very high on Andrew Raycroft, but he’s played well so far. The Sabres should have four goals, but fifteen shots and fifteen saves later, Raycroft’s posting a goose egg after 20. He’ll crack eventually.
-The powerplay cycled the puck well. It looks like they still miss Connolly a bit, but having Spacek back helps alleviate some of that. Seems as if the Sabres are looking to take more shots out on the perimeter and hope for a rebound in front of the net where Gaustad or Vanek is parked. Just have to get those shots through for that strategy to be effective.
After the Second:
-Toronto has all the momentum going into the third. The late goal should give them an edge and, if they come out in the final frame like they did in the second, the Sabres could find themselves down by a pair in no time. Buffalo needs to win the opening face off and set their tempo right away and dictate the style of play. Miller’s been great, and he may have to be better.
-Cold Hard Fact courtesy of the immortal Kevin Sylvester: The Sabres have given up the first goal in 12 of their 15 games this season. That’s a large factor to their sub-.500 record.
-Not very impressed with Max’s play, especially in the last minute. Just a bad period for him all-around. Instead of playing to the whistle, he stopped hustling, whined for a penalty and Toronto touched up for icing. If I’m Ruff, I call him out on that one in front of everyone. Unacceptable play, especially in that situation. The Leafs ended up scoring on the ensuing face off, and just like that, Toronto’s up 1-0. Gaustad seems to be getting tossed from a lot of face offs lately, and that one was costly (I’m scratching my head as to why he got tossed there, and so is the Roost’s own Jon who noted to me via text message–is there any other way?–that Goose wasn’t even in the circle before he got tossed).
-I was just flipping through the channels and The Wizard of Oz is on two different channels (TBS and TNT) and are just about a minute apart of each other. Someone in the programming department for one of those stations is getting fired.
-This is the best the RAV line has looked in a long time, but they still look disheveled and unorganized. Which is why they didn’t stay together very long. I say put Goose between Vanek and Max for a period or two and just see what happens. Maybe Gaustad can create some space for them so Vanek can get into better shooting lanes and get the monkey off his back (the monkey I thought would have been lifted after that Tampa game). Not sure even Goose can get Max to hustle on that last play of the period, though.
-Lydman caught another puck in the face with about 7:30 left in the period. He’s tough, no question about that. That letter on his chest will make him even tougher.
-A scare there half-way through the period but Miller stayed strong. If the Sabres end up winning, Miller’s play in that minute-ish stretch will be a major reason why. Kubina rushing out of the box after the worst and dumbest penalty in hockey and Miller stops him cold. Then Afinogenov losing the puck on a sloppy sequence coming out of his own end, and Miller comes up huge again to bail his defense out.
-Sabres continued to move the puck very well. Whether it’s just sticking to The System or just playing with some pride, I like what I’m watching so far. They’re making their usual quick passes, so no player has the puck on their stick for too long and it’s resulted in an effective offensive attack.
-Leafs started out strong. They got some early pressure on and got a little more aggressive. Even Sundin showed some passion.
-Welcome back, Spacek. Nice little hip check there on Kilger. I forgot these guys knew how to be physical.
After the final horn:
–The Sabres played such a strong first period that it’s a shame they lost this game the way they did. Toronto had just 23 shots on Miller, but it was all they needed. Buffalo just couldn’t get a shot through when they needed one the most and played an uninspired third period. That early Sundin goal, combined with not being able to capitalize on their chances, just killed them and it shouldn’t have. The goal that made it 3-0 only made it worse. The team should be mentally tougher than the way they played tonight. They know what it takes to win and just didn’t display it tonight. It was an embarrassing loss. Even the poweplay, which looked very good early on, failed to generate solid opportunities late.
Some other quick notes…
-Harry Neale on Gaustad trying to draw a penalty: “Now he’s doing his Michael Jackson impression, playing with one glove.” Remember the days when the easiest way to make fun of Jack-O was due to the fact that he wore one glove? Man have the times changed.
-For as little as Toronto was in the Sabres zone, they really made an effort to rough Miller up. Once in the second and again in the third they took runs at him behind the net. And what did the Sabres do about it? Absolutely nothing.
-None of the Sabres can buy a goal. Hecht cranked one off the pipe and Raycroft got injured just after. Raycroft looked shaky after, scrambling to find the puck after the puck on the ensuing shift. In fact, Hecht put the puck off the post again on that second shift. The posts were Raycroft’s best friends tonight and he did just enough to earn the shutout. A gutsy effort for the former Rookie of the Year. It was just one of those nights for the Sabres offense.
–A miscue by Lydman and Tallinder leads to the Sundin goal that put Toronto up 2-0 just three minutes into the third. I don’t want to say I called it, but I kind of did.
-Is there anything worse than hearing “Go Leafs Go” chants in your own barn? Yes there is. “Miiiillllerrrrrrr.” God I hate Toronto games.
-The Sabres weren’t shut out at all during the 2006-07 regular season. They were blanked in Game Three of the Conference Finals last year and have been unable to score in three games this season. Not a good sign for a team that put up over 300 goals last season. Say what you want about scoring being down league-wide, this team should be able to score at least once a game, especially at home.
The good news is that the Sabres won’t have a lot of time to dwell on this loss. They’re in Boston tomorrow night to play the Bruins for what feels like the fifth time this week. Other than that and a great first 39 minutes, there isn’t much to hang your rally caps on. This has all the markings of a team struggling to find their identity and that of a very long season.