The Toronto Maple Leafs failure to show up for games in Buffalo has been a regular occurrence since the Sabres entered the NHL in 1970, but their 5-2 loss at Key Bank Center on Sunday was more reflective of the club’s current flaws and issues than any historical curse, as Toronto was sloppy and unenergetic and allowed Buffalo to dominate play for most of the contest.
After falling behind 2-0 on goals from Johan Larsson and Conor Sheary, the Leafs came back to tie the game on rookie Egor Korshkov’s first NHL goal and Zach Hyman’s tying marker early in the third, but once again Toronto’s late-game defensive woes came back to bite them, as Jack Eichel, Kyle Okposo, and Jimmy Vesey scored in the span of 91 seconds to put the game out of reach.
“It was pretty apparent from about the 10-minute mark of the first period on that we didn't have it today. I was frankly a little stunned that we had the surge we did to start the third, just because we just didn't seem to have it today.” Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said after the game. “I didn't like the response (after the third goal), but just seemed like we played and defended tired for most of the game and just made life really easy for (Buffalo)."
While fatigue was a factor (Sunday was the third game in four nights), Keefe was critical of the club’s lack of consistency, their inability curb mistakes and play with more discipline. Toronto turned over the puck in the neutral zone with regularity on Sunday, allowing Buffalo to put 28 shots on Frederik Andersen in the first 40 minutes.
"This is the worst we've been in a really long time. We haven't been able to get the results we're capable of getting, but (it) seems like each game has been a little bit different in terms of what the issues are." Keefe said. "It's certainly not a one-off, because we haven't really put our game together for quite some time, but this was different today and we were just for most of the game didn't feel like we were in the building at all."
Keefe also expressed a concern with the depth of the club in the wake of injuries to Morgan Rielly, Cody Ceci, Andreas Johnsson, and Ilya Mikheyev, saying that the Leafs have to be better dealing with adversity and finding better contributions from the third and fourth lines and on defense.
Toronto dodged the injury bullet, as defenseman Rasmus Sandin returned to the game late in the second period after blocking a shot in the first. Keefe indicated that the rookie had x-rays done, but was able to return.
With the loss, the Leafs remain at 70 points, four points ahead of Florida. The Panthers have two games in hand and play in San Jose on Monday afternoon. The Leafs begin a home-and-home with the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Tuesday.
*******If you are interested in sponsorship or advertising your business in the Greater Toronto / Southern Ontario area on this column, please send a message for more information by clicking on the “Contact” button at the top of the page.*******