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Sabres V Leafs Game 29

Christmas may not be until December 25th, but it came early for the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday night in a 2-1 victory against the Buffalo Sabres. They gave the Leafs an early present of 2 points with such generosity that they might as well have wrapped them in a box with a bow on top.
This is the first time the Sabres met their bitter rivals this season, and things started out great. Toni Lydman’s first goal of the season was a thing of beauty, and looked like it was going to set the tone of the game. It started back behind the Buffalo net, when Henrik Tallinder cleared the puck up to Derek Roy, who was at the blue line. Roy shot up the wall and into Toronto territory, but turned and headed across the ice instead of toward the net. Roy passed the puck past Tomas Kaberle and a flat-footed Nik Antropov, who failed to pick up Lydman while he was streaking up the ice to join the rush. He took a wrist shot and got it past defenseman Pavel Kubina and netminder Vesa Toskala.
Lydman’s goal was the first scored by a Buffalo defenseman in 14 games, since the Sabres defeated the St. Louis Blues on November 12. It the 9,999th goal ever scored by a Buffalo Sabre, Toronto’s 99th goal against of the season, and the last goal the home team would score all night, despite numerous chances to take a greater lead.
There were three opportunities in the first period alone where the Sabres should have increased their lead. Nearly halfway through the first period, Vanek and Roy took the puck up the ice on the penalty kill 2-on-1. Roy passed it over to Vanek, who took it to the net and had Toskala sold on a fake shot. Roy was apparently also sold, because when the return pass came he wasn’t ready to put it into the gaping right-side of the net and nearly fell over. With around 3 minutes remaining in the period, Daniel Paille and Paul Gaustad found themselves in nearly the same exact position. On the penalty kill, rushing up on a 2-on-1, Paille to Gaustad, Gaustad back to Paille, and boom – he shoots it wide.
It happened again thirty seconds later, this time with Roy and Ales Kotalik, only this time Toskala saw it coming and got his pad on the puck. It’s funny how a couple of miscued opportunities can telegraph your strategy, and hopefully the Sabres learn a lesson from that. It could have easily been 3-0 going into the second period. The Sabres were outplaying the Leafs dramatically, throwing their weight around and practically skating circles around them.
They continued that pace until the Leafs scored with 2:21 remaining in the second period. Buffalo defense pairing Andrej Sekera and Jaroslav Spacek were setting up in their own zone and were under some pressure from Leafs’ forwards Nioklai Kulemin and Lee Stempniak. Sekera passed the puck to Spacek, who passed it back to Sekera behind the net. Stempniak chased the Buffalo defenseman out and into the crease, where Kulemin turned it over to keep the puck in the zone.
It was like the Sabres blew a flat with that turnover. The Leafs started to put heavy pressure on Buffalo in their own end. Jochen Hecht tried to clear the puck but it was gloved by Jeremy Williams at the blue line. He put the puck back on the ice, fired a shot from the top of the right circle to beat a screened Ryan Miller.
The Sabres were given a huge gift when Sekera took an unfortunate high stick from Stempniak. His blood gave Buffalo 4 minutes of power play, 3:50 of which carried into the beginning of the third period. When they hit the ice in the third, they couldn’t have looked more disinterested. They couldn’t get set up, they failed to chase the puck with any sort of effort, and they didn’t bother trying to throw the body. Toronto even took another penalty, giving the Sabres the 2-man-advantage for 17 seconds and another 5-on-4 to work with after that, and they did absolutely nothing with it. They didn’t even get a shot on net until almost 4 minutes into the period 2 men up.
The only thing they did in the third period was miss another open net and allow the Leafs to take the game away. Almost 5 minutes into the final period, Drew Stafford was standing unchecked to the right of the net with the puck on his stick. Toskala was no where to be seen. He teed up the shot and fired it right into the mesh… on the outside of the net.
Toronoto took the lead with just under 8 minutes left in the game when defenseman Ian White wristed a shot from the right point. It bounced off the ice and made it past Miller. Of course, the Buffalo goaltender played a fantastic game, stopping 31 of 33 shots to keep his anemic team in it. The Sabres were outshot 11-7 in the third, tallying only 3 shots on net after White’s goal. It’s no surprise, then, that pulling him in the final minute did nothing to inspire a comeback – you usually lose when you take your best player off the ice.
Another reason could be the Sabres inability to generate much of anything on the power play. They continually fire shots from the blue line, only to have them ricochet off the shin pads of opposing defensemen. They need to figure out a way to mix things up a little better, because the shot lanes just aren’t there when the other team seems to know exactly how to get in the way. Not scoring a goal when you have nearly 6 minutes with the man-advantage is inexcusable.
It was the Sabres fifth game in 9 nights, so they may have been a little tired. To be fair, it really did look like they simply ran out of gas, and hey, they won the last 3 in a row before this. Still, it’s not an acceptable excuse, and will be even less acceptable when they’re taking on the New Jersey Devils less than 24 hours later. If they’re going to top a squad that won their previous game 8-5, and on the road no less, they’re going to need to cash in on the obvious scoring chances and start putting points on the board when they’re a man up, or they’re going to end up heading home with their heads hanging.

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