TORONTO, ON (WKBW) — Despite a lead in the first period, the Buffalo Sabres wouldn't score again, dropping their third game to the Toronto Maple Leafs this season 5-2. Jason Pominville and Conor Sheary scored for the Sabres while John Tavares, Morgan Rielly, Nick Petan, Nikita Zaitsev, and Mitch Marner scored for the Maple Leafs. With the loss, the Sabres fall even farther out of the playoff picture as their record slips to 30-27-8.
5 Observations from Saturday's loss:
Depth = Success
If the Maple Leafs make a run this season it'll be because they can roll three awesome lines that capitalize on scoring chances. At times they look sloppy on defense, which isn't a surprise considering all the talent they have up front. Just look at how the two teams top-three lines compare and that's *without* Nazem Kadri, who is still nursing an injury.
Hyman -Tavares - Marner / Skinner - Eichel - Reinhart
This is basically the only line the Sabres have that's even close to as talented as Toronto. For the sake of the arguement, we'll call it a wash.
Johnsson - Matthews - Kapanen / Sheary - Rodrigues - Okposo
Toronto's second line has combined for 137 points this season while the Sabres trio has combined for 77. I'll save you the math -- that's a 60-point difference. Sure, a big part of this is Auston Matthews but for the Leafs it's a blessing that he can play on the second line.
Marleau- Nylander - Brown / Wilson - Mittelstadt - Thompson
Mittelstadt will likely turn into a solid top-six forward but he's certainly not there yet. Toronto has a veteran center normally slotted down the middle on the third line alongside a super skilled forward [Nylander] and one of the most productive goal scorers of all-time [Marleau]. Meanwhile, the Sabres have two players who often make mistakes in their own end and a player who should be playing on the fourth-line.
Let's not kid ourselves, Toronto's roster has several flaws and in the playoffs, they'll be pushed to the limit. Yet their depth up front is something to envy and a big reason why they've won all three games against the Sabres this season.
Back to Back
It would've been fitting for the Sabres to snap their nearly three-month stretch without back to back wins in Toronto.
Instead, the Sabres once again came up short, falling to the Maple Leafs for the third time this season [0-2-1]. Buffalo has now lost their last four games against Toronto, something that hasn't happened since 1972. Toronto is surely the better team but the Sabres had a first-period lead and squandered it.
In his last three games, Conor Sheary has three goals and two assists. Not bad for a guy who went 16 games without finding the back of the net earlier in the season. Slotted alongside Evan Rodrigues and Kyle Okposo, Sheary and his new linemates have created several scoring chances and played a big role in the Sabres last two games.
In 61 games this season, Sheary has 30 points [12G, 18A] in 61 games played. With an expiring contract after the season, Sheary will need to be resigned if he's going to suit up with the Sabres for a second season. Despite streaky numbers for much of this season, bringing Sheary back as a third line winger seems like a good idea if he's willing to stay.
The good and the bad
In his third game with the Sabres since he was acquired from the Anaheim Ducks at the deadline, Brandon Montour once again did some really impressive things. In the first period, he sent a pass to Marco Scandella, that eventually led to a goal from Jason Pominville. Montour was initially awarded a secondary assist but it was later credited to Zemgus Girgensons instead.
Nevertheless, Montour's ability to join the rush and create offense is something this team needed. He's by no means a finished product, especially defensively.
That was on display in the dying minutes of the second period, when Montour was on the wrong end of a bounce into his own net. While parked in front of the net battling a Leafs forward, Nikita Zaitsev threw a pass to the middle of the ice. It redirected off Montour's foot and went right into the Sabres net, giving Toronto a 4-2 lead.
Overall, the good has outweighed the bad. Despite the mistakes, it's clear why GM Jason Botterill was willing to part ways with a first-round pick to add the 24-year-old defenseman.
Too little, too late
In the final frame the Sabres dominated play but their strong period wasn’t enough to dig themselves out of the two goal hole they were buried in. Give credit to Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen for keeping the Sabres off the board despite the 20 shots he faced in the final 20 minutes. Buffalo actually outshot Toronto 37-32 but the scoreboard certainly didn't reflect the shot differential.