Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs’ 4-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres Thursday at First Niagara Center:
Sabres put Leafs on their heels early, take first lead.
Toronto hasn’t fared well playing in Buffalo in recent years, and they didn’t begin this game well, failing to register a shot on net for the first 12 minutes of the opening period, giving the Sabres two power plays and surrendering the first two goals of the night: Johan Larsson beat Garret Sparks at 7:09 of the game for his eighth goal of the season to open the scoring, and Cal O’Reilly scored with the man advantage with 19 seconds left in the first to give the host team a 2-0 lead.
The Sabres outshot Toronto 16-5 in the first 20 minutes, and entirely deserved to be ahead. This was one of the Buds’ weaker pushes out of the gate since the trade deadline a month ago, and while that’s a credit to the way they’ve usually played since that time, it still won’t be to the liking of head coach Mike Babcock.
Lindberg latest Leafs youngster to make his NHL debut.
Young winger Tobias Lindberg was acquired by the Leafs in the trade that sent Dion Phaneuf to the Senators, and he became the 12th rookie to make his NHL debut with Toronto this year. The 20-year-old Swede posted six goals and 12 points in 19 games with the American League Marlies since coming over in the trade, and logged a very respectable 18:38 of of ice time Thursday while making a brilliant setup pass on Brooks Laich’s second-period goal.
Like many of his up-and-coming teammates, Lindberg will be able to use this experience as a motivator for the rest of the regular season, the AHL playoffs and in the summer and attempt to make the NHL roster on a full-time basis next year.
Laich’s first goal for Toronto breaks a lengthy drought.
Veteran centre Brooks Laich has made a sizeable impact in his short time with Toronto – the 32-year-old had four assists in 15 games since he became a Leaf in late February, and has been an excellent leader for a young squad – and Thursday he recorded his first goal with the Buds.
Laich’s second goal of the season was his 12th point in 76 games with Washington and Toronto, and it ended a 63-game scoring drought. He’s talked since the trade of rebuilding his career to where it was prior to injuries, and he’s availed himself well in that regard since he became a Leaf.
Campbell makes Leafs debut.
Defenceman and Marlies captain Andrew Campbell was also recalled with Lindberg (along with forward Kasperi Kapanen and T.J. Brennan) Thursday, and the 28-year-old made his Leafs debut against the Sabres.
Campbell played 14:07 and took the first penalty of the night in his 37th career NHL game. The Caledonia, Ont., native played three games with the L.A. Kings two seasons ago and 33 with Arizona last year, and has served the Leafs organization well as a leader for its developing youngsters in the AHL, so it was good to see him rewarded with another appearance in the planet’s best league. He’s the 45th player to appear for the Buds this season.
Kadri in the thick of tense things once again.
It’s no secret centre Nazem Kadri doesn’t shy away from contact or the bad side of the men he’s playing against, and once again, he was very effective in getting under the skin of an opponent Thursday. Kadri drew a third-period penalty on Marcus Foligno, and was one-half of a late-game fight with Larsson that saw a few Sabres jump in after him.
Kadri is on record as welcoming a spirited response to his passionate play, so this was likely all in a night’s work for him. But that edge is still something the Leafs need more of – and with Leo Komarov returning and Nikita Soshnikov likely in a full-time NHL role next season, it’s something they’ll have more of.