BUFFALO, N.Y. - Opportunistic offence has been a hallmark of the Toronto Maple Leafs' season.
On Friday night, they were done in when the Buffalo Sabres followed that winning recipe. When the Leafs struggled to mount much of an attack, the Sabres took advantage of a few breaks to beat them 3-1 at First Niagara Center.
Without injured centres Tyler Bozak and Dave Bolland and the suspended Nazem Kadri, the depleted Leafs struggled against a Sabres team that was energized by wholesale organizational changes this week. This was the first game of the Pat LaFontaine era as president of hockey operations and the return of Ted Nolan, who last coached the Sabres in 1997.
Buffalo didn't look like a playoff contender overnight, but there was a noticeable jump in the NHL's last-place team. Marcus Foligno scored the winning goal in the second period on a feed from captain Steve Ott, who got the Sabres on the board earlier in the period.
Trevor Smith, called up in the wake of Kadri's three-game suspension, scored for the Leafs.
Buffalo improved to 10-1-2 in the first half of home-and-home games with Toronto. The Sabres visit Air Canada Centre on Saturday night.
Leafs coach Randy Carlyle vowed Friday morning that he wouldn't just throw Smith on the fourth line and that he'd put him with offensive-minded wingers. He did just that, and it led to the first goal of the game.
Smith took a pass from linemate David Clarkson above the faceoff circles and fired through traffic and past Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller 6:25 into the second period. It was his second goal on five shots at the NHL level this season.
The Sabres tied it at 1 on the power play 9:45 into the second on a high-percentage shot from Ott. Tyler Myers' point shot banked off goaltender Jonathan Bernier's pads and out front, where Toronto defenceman Cody Franson inadvertently tapped it right to Ott, who slammed the puck into an empty net.
That goal woke up the Sabres fans who were clearly outnumbered by Leafs fans who were able to snatch up plenty of tickets before the firings of Buffalo general manager Darcy Regier and coach Ron Rolston. "Go Leafs, Go" chants began almost an hour before puck drop, and that partisan noise continued throughout the night.
But the Sabres managed to quiet the border-crossing Leafs fans by taking the lead later 15:22 into the second. This time it came in transition, as Ott fed Marcus Foligno past a sliding Paul Ranger on a two-on-one rush.
Foligno's goal was his seventh point in seven career games against the Leafs.
Seconds later, Ehrhoff scored an empty-net goal from his own goal line to seal it.
Notes — Rookie defenceman Morgan Rielly was a healthy scratch for the second time in three games and fourth time this season. When he played Wednesday at the Minnesota Wild, the Leafs dressed seven defencemen. ... Miller made 32 saves on 33 shots, while Bernier finished with 24 on 26 shots.
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