In another frantic preseason matchup, the Buffalo Sabres travelled to Toronto to take on the division-rival Maple Leafs. High scoring affairs have become the hallmark of this squad that is averaging over three goals a game. The preseason being what it is, it’s nice to see Buffalo scoring at a better pace than last season.
Ultimately, the Sabres lost 5-3 to a Leafs team that put a lot more of their top players on the ice. While there is a litany of negatives from the game, there were certainly some positives to be taken from the game.
The fact that the team is scoring early and - and more often than previously is impressive (again, with the ‘preseason’ qualifier). Thirty seconds into the game, Andrew Ogelvie opened the scoring for Buffalo; his second on the year with the assist going to Casey Nelson. The Leafs answered back with two quick goals - Ron Hainsey scoring just 18 seconds later, and Pierre Engvall adding the second goal at 1:11. The newly acquired John Tavares scored Toronto’s third goal at 3:42 in the first, and it seemed as though the game was getting out of hand.
Buffalo struggled to maintain possession early, and much of that can be attributed to a woeful period for faceoffs that saw the Leafs win over 70 percent. Despite being outplayed and outshot, the Sabres found the back of the net once again as CJ Smith scored his first in September on an assist from Nicholas Baptiste. The first period ended with Toronto up 3-2, with the score not telling the full story of the game.
The Sabres collected themselves in the intermission. Tage Thompson tied the game at 6:08. Carrying the puck to the middle, Thompson dragged past a diving Connor Carrick and buried the puck behind Leafs goalie Garret Sparks.
Another faceoff loss provided Toronto a goal, when the Leafs won the puck cleanly off the draw. Chris Mueller drove the net and banged home is own rebound to give Toronto the lead for the second time in the night. That would prove to be the game winner, with John Tavares adding an empty net goal at 19:18 in the third.
While it is important to remember that most of the team’s top-six forwards and the biggest names on the blue line sat this game out, it was an important opportunity for players like Casey Mittelstadt and Brendan Guhle to make an impression facing many of Toronto’s stars. Guhle seemed to panic frequently, make a slew of poor decisions. Mittelstadt was largely unmentionable, and did little to improve the Sabres’ distinctly terrible performance in the circle.
These players will have one more opportunity to prove themselves as the Sabres and Leafs will face off on Saturday night. The first AHL cuts will be made the following day in order to allow players to report to Rochester for the start of training camp.
Competition is heating up, and there might be some surprises as the preseason continues. Thompson and Smith have been continually impressive in all facets of the game, and could edge out bigger names with bigger expectations as the final roster is assembled.
Final Score: Leafs 5 | Sabres 3
Shots on Goal: Leafs 32 | Sabres 32
Sabres Goals: Ogelvie (2), Smith (1), Thompson (1)
Leafs Goals: Hainsey (1), Engval (1), Mueller (1) and Tavares (4)
Three Stars of the Game
1. Curtis McElhinney (20 saves on 20 shots)
2. Tage Thompson (1 G)
3. CJ Smith (1G)