There seems to be some disagreement about the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Thanks to the snow storm that hit Buffalo on Saturday, no one is sure if the Maple Leafs did not show up at all at HSBC Arena or if they left early to get a jump on the long, slippery ride home.
Either way, it was clear rookie goaltender James Reimer was left all by himself for most of the first two periods in a 6-2 Buffalo Sabres win before Leafs head coach Ron Wilson showed him some mercy by sending in Jean-Sebastien Giguere to handle the third period.
Wilson was not crazy about the third goal Reimer surrendered, a long wrist shot by Paul Gaustad but, the coach added, “we did not give him any support.”
While there is a large body of similar work to compare this to, despite the two-game winning streak the Leafs carried into this game, this game is a frontrunner for their worst performance of the season. The score was flattering in the extreme to the Leafs, as the Sabres skated up, down and around them.
When the Leafs were not handing the puck to the Sabres for a scoring chance they were standing still in their own zone watching the hosts fire away at Reimer. The lack of effort was inexplicable, considering the Sabres were coming off a road loss Friday night and should have been ripe for another one that would have brought the Leafs to within two points of them in the NHL’s Eastern Conference race for the also-rans.
This one was over early, as the Leaf defence gave the puck away for one goal and then watched another one take shape on a power play as Jason Pominville and Drew Stafford gave the Sabres a 2-0 lead in the first six minutes. They wilted under the Sabres’ fore-checking, although the Leafs should know by now the Sabres’ trademark is a furious start.
“They come out as hard as anyone in the league,” said Leaf defenceman Luke Schenn, who coughed up the puck to start the play that led to Pominville’s goal. “That shouldn’t be an excuse because we know it’s coming.”
After Schenn handed the puck to Thomas Vanek, he relayed it to Pominville as Schenn’s partner, Tomas Kaberle, fell on his backside. This gave Pominville the room he needed to beat Reimer.
On the second goal, Leaf defenceman Dion Phaneuf was so impressed with the Sabres’ puck-handling that he watched Stafford wheel into the high slot as the trailer and rip a shot past Reimer.
“They came out and beat us up in the first five minutes of the game,” said Leafs winger Clarke MacArthur, a former Sabre who saw this movie from the other side of the rink lots of times. “We knew that coming in.”
The Leaf defencemen were not solely at fault, though. Winger Phil Kessel managed to get in both a giveaway and some sightseeing on the Sabres’ fifth goal in the second period. He coughed up the puck to Stafford in the neutral zone and went down. Kessel then decided to take his time getting up as Stafford wheeled in on Reimer for his second goal of the game.
Tim Connolly also scored for the Sabres. Nikolai Kulemin had a shorthanded goal for the Leafs and Francois Beauchemin added one in the third period. After he scored, Beauchemin had a hand in another goal – he made a beautiful cross-ice pass to Vanek for a breakaway and the Sabre forward’s second goal of the game.
Since the 2004-05 lockout, the Sabres beat the Leafs in 29 out of 39 games at HSBC Arena, their best rate of success against any NHL team in that period. None of the Leafs has an explanation for it.
“We don’t play with the same intensity against Buffalo as when we’re matching against our other division rivals like Montreal and Ottawa,” Wilson said. “We don’t seem to treat them as division rivals.
“I don’t understand it. They’re only 90 minutes away and lots of our fans always show up.”