By Frank Wolf
Auston Matthews made his regular season debut in Buffalo on Thursday for an Atlantic division match-up against the Sabres. The same city in which he was drafted less than 6 months ago. But it was another Leaf who had a bigger impact in the game. Mitch Marner scored two goals in a 2-1 win, giving the Leafs their first winning streak of the year. It was also the first time Toronto defeated Buffalo on the road since the 2013 season.
“Our line was cycling really well tonight and that’s what my linemates were doing when they found me for that first one.” Marner said after the win. “We had chemistry going. It was a great team effort.”
Marner’s first goal came off of a beautiful feed from Tyler Bozak who found his linemate sneaking in the backdoor. Marner’s second was a nice individual effort. Unassisted, Marner buried his own rebound past Lehner after outmuscling Foligno for the loose puck.
Frederick Anderson channeled his inner Dominick Hasek and turned in a lights out performance for Toronto. Stopping 42 Buffalo shots. ”Freddie is playing like a brick wall back there. He’s been giving us a chance to win every night, he and Jhonas (Enroth)” Marner added. Anderson was named the consensus 1st star. The biggest save of the night for Anderson happened late in the first period with the Leafs up 1-0 he denied Zemgus Girgensons with a gorgeous pad save not once but twice. Girgensons had Anderson out of position on the first attempt but the forwards inability to lift the puck up and over the outstretched leg of Anderson kept Buffalo off the scoreboard.
Marner’s second goal, his 3rdof the season came just two-minutes into the 2nd period.
Not long after Anderson’s acrobatic display Buffalo caught a break in the early going of the second. Off of a futile Leafs clearing attempt the Sabres Marcus Foligno took a backhand slap at a bouncing puck and into a wide open goal cutting the deficit in half. Unfortunately for Buffalo that’s as close as they would get. Despite putting up a season high 43 shots on goal, Buffalo had no answers for Anderson. The Sabres outshot the Leafs 43-29.
“He (Anderson) was good in Montreal and in Brooklyn (Islanders) and it’s 3 in a row now so he’s got his confidence” Coach Mike Babcock said after the game. “I felt offensively we could have taken it to them, thought we sat back a bit too much. So we have some things we need to figure out.”
Robin Lehner was shaky in his return to the pipes after missing two straight starts battling the flu. He allowed two goals on 29 shots and had several miscues playing the puck behind his net. Lehner over-skated the puck often and looked unsure on whether or not he should play pucks that came around the end boards that most goaltenders wouldn’t think twice about. He wasn’t the reason Buffalo lost but he didn’t have the toughest of nights either.
Noticeably absent was the fourth line of Nick Baptiste, Derek Grant and Justin Bailey. The trio combined for just 1 shot on goal. Baptiste and Bailey were called up too fill in for the injured Hudson Fasching and Nicolas Deslauriers. They easily could have played their way back onto the next bus for Rochester.
This was a smaller than usual crowd for a rivalry such as Sabres vs Leafs. An announced crowd of 18,183 looked more like 13,183. Busloads of space in the 300 level were clearly visible from the opening puck drop to the final horn.
Casey Nelson playing in just his second game was filling in for Zach Bogosian (MCL). He started the game with Dmitry Kulikov. Bogosian is going to miss “weeks” according to head coach Dan Bylsma. Expect another Amerks call-up Friday. “I felt more comfortable as the game went on but still, obviously not happy about the result” Nelson said.
Buffalo had taken four-of-the-last-five from Toronto including 3 straight at home dating back to 2013. The Sabres travel to play Ottawa Saturday while the Leafs will host Vancouver.