Miller Mystifies Maple Leafs
Coming off a season opening win, the Leafs took to home ice for the first time, and like in Montreal,
a long pregame ceremony seemed to work against the home team. The Leafs had a slow start, and so too did the crowd, however at 2:34 of the first period the building came alive as Colton Orr dropped the gloves against the 6’8” John Scott. Much to the delight of the crowd, Orr came out swinging and scored the takedown, bringing the ACC to its feet. Scrivens looked a lot more comfortable to start the game, but that didn’t stop Cody Hodgson from using his pelvis to tip in the Christian Ehroff point shot at 11:09. Kulemin failed to block the point shot and Scrivens did not see the puck careen off of Hodgson in front. Late in the period the Leafs had a 5-3 powerplay for 1:39, but were not able to crack Ryan Miller. Phaneuf almost broke the post, Liles was robbed, and Kessel too was thwarted numerous times by the All Star goalie. The Leafs did everything right on that powerplay except for score. With 9 shots on their powerplays the Leafs outshot the Sabres 13-5 in the period, but headed to the break down by 1.
The second period, like Saturday’s game was pretty much a dud. The Leafs once again outshot the Sabres, this time 8-6, but like the first, Buffalo scored, while the Leafs did not. After a strong offensive zone shift, Nikolai Kulemin was pushed off the puck by Thomas Vanek which led to an odd man rush for the Sabres and ultimately a goal by the Sabre captain, Jason Pominville. This is the third goal the Leafs have given up this season, and the third one Kulemin is partially to blame for (he was the guy who failed the clear the puck on the PK in the Montreal game as well) and remember this is from the forward who is supposed to be our best defensive forward. The Leafs had numerous chances, but Ryan Miller once again emphatically shut the door. The Leafs best chance came on the powerplay when Kadri, through a maze of legs, fed Liles the puck, only to be robbed point blank by the right pad of Miller. Speaking of Kadri, in the second he had around 3 minutes of ice time, yet he is arguably their most dynamic forward aside from Kessel. Every time he is on the ice he makes things happen, yet Carlyle only plays him for 7:41 through two periods. Perhaps a little more time on the PP would help too, given his vision and creativity?
The third period saw the Leafs throw pretty much everything possible at the Sabres net, but Miller seemed to stop everything. That is, until the Leafs pulled the goaltender with just over 2 minutes to go. Mike Kostka took a shot that bounced in front of the net where Nazem Kadri (who got some more deserved ice time in the third) pounced on it and put the Buds on the board. Seconds later it looked like the Leafs had tied the game, but it was immediately waved off as Lupul punched the puck into the net. As the last minute wound down, the Leafs had several chances, but Miller continued to shut them down and ultimately the game comes down to this: Miller single handedly beat the Leafs.
Battle of the young guns:
Grigorenko was practically invisible, but also made no glaring mistakes in his little more than 13 minutes of ice time. Kadri, on the other hand, created numerous scoring chances and was a force when he was on the ice, eventually scoring the Leafs only goal. The problem, as I noted earlier, was that he wasn’t on the ice often enough. That may come with more games, but seeing as he makes things happen I would like to see him given some more ice time.
Like I said before the game, special teams have a chance to be the difference maker. The Leafs went 1-7 on the powerplay, and killed off all 3 Buffalo powerplays. It’s not that they played poorly on the powerplay, but when you have 7 chances, including a lengthy 2 man advantage, you have to capitalize.
Lupul wasn’t anything special until the third period when he started going to the net and creating chances using his size, but it was a case of too little too late. He was essentially non-existent throughout the first two periods, and the Leafs are going to need a better effort from him next game.
Post game Notes
The Grabovski Line was pretty much a non-factor once again, and besides a few shifts in the latter stages of the third period, they showed little offensive prowess. Considering he is their highest paid forward, and played in Europe throughout the lockout, Grabovski will be counted on for some better play and production going forward.
Ryan Miller is now 28-14 against the Leafs in his career, with 4 Shutouts. He can now be officially anointed as a “Leaf Killer” if he wasn’t already. Tyler Bozak was 18-22 in the faceoff circle, while Phil Kessel led the Leafs with 7 shots, and was all over the ice doing everything except for putting the puck into the net (you can thank Miller for that).
The Leafs play back-to-back on Wednesday against the Penguins in Pittsburgh and at home Thursday against the Islanders, respectively.