Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs’ 4-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres Saturday at Air Canada Centre:
Rookie mistake puts Leafs behind early.
Leafs youngster Rinat Valiev is just finishing his first week in the NHL, and four minutes into the opening period of Saturday’s game against the visiting Sabres, the rookie defenceman made a costly turnover that led to Buffalo taking a 1-0 lead on captain Brian Gionta’s 11th goal of the season.
Valiev wasn’t facing much pressure prior to the turnover, but this is a 22-year-old playing in just the fifth NHL game of his career, and even the most idealistic projections for him (or any player) don’t include an instant acclimation to the league. It takes time and mistakes before players feel comfortable in the NHL, and unfortunately for Valiev, Toronto goalie Garret Sparks wasn’t able to bail him out on the error.
Nylander shows off his skills on offence.
In the first 10 games of his NHL career, Toronto center William Nylander hasn’t dominated the way he’s dominated the American League since his rookie pro season last year. That would be a tall order indeed, but he isn’t in over his head, either: the 19-year-old scored his third NHL marker of the season at 14:55 of the second period Saturday on a nasty wrist shot over the shoulder of Buffalo goalie Chad Johnson that evened the game at a goal apiece.
The skill involved in picking the corner that quickly and precisely is one of the things that has thrilled Buds management since it drafted Nylander eighth overall in 2014, and as he fills out physically and adapts to the different NHL game, he’ll only become more of a threat to score than he already is.
Carrick’s second as a Leaf kicks off productive third period for Toronto.
The Leafs outshot the Sabres 11-3 in the opening period and 18-12 after 40 minutes, and they kept coming at Buffalo in the third, taking the lead at the 6:56 mark on blueliner Connor Carrick’s second goal of the season, then putting the game away with two goals in a 1:14 span on goals from D-man Martin Marincin (at 15:32) and winger Milan Michalek (at 16:46).
The goals by Michalek (who added an assist on Nylander’s goal) and Marincin were the first of their Toronto career, and just the second for Marincin in 139 career NHL games. Most times this year, the Leafs have had trouble reaching the three-goal level in a single game, but their youngsters provided hope Saturday that the future will see them get there far more regularly.
That’s right – another Leafs youngster makes his NHL debut.
For the 11th time this season, a Maple Leafs prospect played in his first-ever NHL game. This time, the honour went to centre Frederik Gauthier, Toronto’s first round pick (21st overall) in the 2013 entry draft. The 20-year-old Laval, Que., native – who in a defensive role amassed five goals and 16 points with the American League Marlies prior to being recalled – logged 11:35 of ice time, two hits and drew the Sabres’ first penalty of the night late in the second frame.
Although his 6-foot-5 frame makes him easy to spot and his good-natured approach makes him easy to root for, it’s important to remember Gauthier is still in his first professional season after three years in the Quebec Major Junior League. As such, he’ll have to work hard and stay patient in the months and years ahead, just as the organization asks of its other young members.
Parenteau’s playmaking skills are impressive.
Veteran winger P-A Parenteau is second on the Leafs in scoring with 17 goals in 66 games this season, but his ability to create scoring chances was one of the reasons Toronto beat the Sabres.
Both of his assists Saturday were primary assists, and pretty ones at that: the first came on a crafty pass to a wide-open Nylander in the slot; the second came on a helper he earned picking the puck out of a scrum and finding Marincin as he broke toward the net. Parenteau has said more than once he enjoys playmaking more than he does scoring, but he’s equally adept at both.