There will be some unhappy faces crossing back over the border tonight.
The Toronto Maple Leafs failed to deliver an adequate effort and performance in the second night of a back-to-back Sunday, losing 5-2 to the lowly Buffalo Sabres. Frederik Andersen took all the damage in Leafs’ net, making 31 saves, and leaving Jack Campbell as the only Leafs netminder to record a win this month.
The debuting Egor Korshkov scored in his maiden voyage with the Leafs, while Zach Hyman continued his torrid pace with a goal that extended his points streak to six games.
Much stiffer competition awaits the Maple Leafs with a home-and-home against the Pittsburgh Penguins this week.
Until then, three points:
Five good minutes
There’s an argument for this game being the worst the Maple Leafs have played all season.
It was an absolute bloodbath through two periods from a territorially perspective. The Sabres racked up a staggering 28-12 shot advantage and 37-15 scoring chance share, while producing 17 high-danger looks compared to Toronto’s eight through the first 40 minutes. They also commanded 63 percent of the overall possession to that point, producing nearly four expected goals.
But even despite their complete team and structural failure to that point, the Maple Leafs used a five-minute stretch of inspired hockey at the start of the third to draw level in a game they simply did not belong in. And it looked more likely than not that the Leafs would pull a result from it — that was until a complete malfunction from a team perspective was replaced with some horrible errors at the individual level.
Buffalo scored three goals in just over 90 seconds shortly after Hyman tied the game. And in each instance, there was zero confusion for the television director when finding the right iso shot to suggest culpability.
It was, and clearly, the penalty-killing Mitch Marner losing Jack Eichel on the third Sabres goal, Rasmus Sandin being schooled by Kyle Okposo on the fourth, and Hyman coughing one up deep in his own end that led to Jimmy Vesey doing the last of the damage.
All told, it was a just ending. Five good minutes isn’t enough to win a game, especially when the remaining 55 were spent digging a ditch.
Massaging the result
As a team that has a difficult time drawing penalties, Leafs fans rarely speak glowingly of the officiating. But it felt as though the masses were stirring a little more than usual throughout Sunday’s loss to the Sabres — and for good reason.
It felt, at least in moments, that the officiating crew was reading the game, rather than what was happening from shift to shift. And it shouldn’t be a complaint from the Leafs exclusively; it certainly went the other way when the Leafs should have been whistled for an obvious bench minor for too many men.
There’s certainly a revisionist aspect to this point, but Toronto committing the first three infractions before receiving a throwaway powerplay late certainly runs in closer parallel to the story of the game, and maybe not necessarily what actually went down.
Sheldon Keefe provided a rather entertaining moment at the podium last week after the Leafs wrapped up their morning session in preparation for the visiting Dallas Stars. He was discussing the frustration he’s experienced in his coaching career when players, or prospects, are reluctant to budge from their comfort zones, and push back when they are asked, for example, to flip wings or try out a shift on the penalty kill.
In response to it, Keefe said he made it his intention to put his players in the system in a position to wear as many hats as possible — because rarely are circumstances ideal when given an opportunity to climb the ladder in professional hockey.
Keefe had the odd exchange with Marlie wingers reluctant to change their preferred side for AHL games:
“We want to try you on your off wing tonight”
“I really only like to play the left side.”
“Really? Just so we’re clear if the Leafs need a right winger tomorrow, you can’t go?”
— Lance Hornby (@sunhornby) February 13, 2020
While they weren’t asked to switch things up positionally, the circumstances were hardly ideal on Sunday for Mason Marchment and Egor Korshov, who were called up from the Toronto Marlies after dressing in American Hockey League games on Friday night and Saturday afternoon.
Three games in as many days would not quite be considered foreign territory to minor-league players, but there are certainly more favourable spots when making an NHL debut, as Korshkov did versus the Sabres.
Certainly, though, he wasn’t ever going to put Keefe in a position to respond, “just so we’re clear, you can’t go?”
And if he had, Korshkov would have missed out on quite the moment:
1st NHL Game, 1st NHL goal for Egor Korshkov. 🚨 pic.twitter.com/GzCawHMbYq
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) February 17, 2020
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