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Five Takeaways - Leafs at Sabres - 03/25/17

Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs' 5-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres Saturday at KeyBank Center:

by Adam Proteau / MapleLeafs.com

Video: TOR@BUF: Brown wires a wrister to beat Lehner

1. Leafs surrender first goal to Sabres, even things up on Brown's goal, then fall behind again prior to end of opening period. Toronto carried a three-game win streak into Saturday's showdown against Buffalo, but the Leafs found themselves trailing first after centre Ryan O'Reilly netted his 18th goal of the season at 7:05 of the opening frame. Winger Connor Brown evened the score for the visitors 2:25 later when he scored his 18th of the season, but the tie lasted all of 15 seconds thanks to Sabres winger Evander Kane, who got his 26th of the season at the 9:45 mark to put his team back on top.

The Leafs' defence - which had limited opponents to two or fewer goals in each of its past nine games - wasn't especially sharp in the first period, failing to clog up shooting lanes and allowing Buffalo 16 shots on goalie Frederik Andersen. But trailing the Sabres by a single goal after 20 minutes still gave them an opportunity to get back in the game.

Video: TOR@BUF: Matthews buries a wicked wrister up close

2. Upper-body injury sidelines Andersen, but Toronto starts second strongly thanks to Matthews' franchise record-tying goal. The Leafs were without Andersen to start the second period as the team announced he'd suffered an upper-body injury in the first and wouldn't return for the remainder of the night. Curtis McElhinney stepped in as Andersen's replacement, and initially, Toronto responded with positive results: 2:22 into the second, centre Auston Matthews registered his 34th goal of the season - tying team icon Wendel Clark's franchise record for goals scored by a rookie - and tied the game. And there was another notable element about Matthews' goal: winger William Nylander earned the secondary assist on it, extending to nine Nylander's new team record for consecutive games with at least one point. 

There was no sense in the immediate aftermath of the game as to how long Andersen would be sidelined from action, but the Leafs did themselves no favours to McElhinney - first, by showing a lack of discipline that resulted in too many penalties (two of which resulted in the Sabres' third and fourth goals) and also, by playing too loosely in their own zone, as evidenced by the 32 shots on net Buffalo amassed in the first 40 minutes of action.

3. Sabres break out with big second period performance from Eichel. A large number of Leafs fans made the trip to Buffalo to cheer on the team, but they were disappointed to see the Sabres reply quickly to Toronto scoring, just as they'd done in the first period. And this time, they scored three goals in the next 10 minutes (including two on the power play) to establish a significant advantage over the Buds: centre Jack Eichel potted his 22nd of the year only 25 seconds after Matthews' goal to put Buffalo ahead 3-2, and blueliner Dmitry Kulikov made it 4-2 at the 5:59 mark. Eichel then added his second of the evening at 13:12 of the second, and the Buds entered the third period trailing by three goals. 

Eichel would finish the night with three points (including the secondary assist on Kulikov's goal) and 53 points in 54 games, and though injuries have kept him out of Buffalo's lineup for a large chunk of the season, the 20-year-old showed what he was capable of, with a terrific instinct for the puck and a clear gift at completing plays.  

4. Toronto outshoots Sabres in third, but can't generate any additional offence. The Sabres played a low-risk game in the third period, avoiding getting into wild back-and-forth play. The Leafs outshot them 12-6 in the final 20 minutes, but Buffalo goalie Robin Lehner stopped every shot he faced in the third to hand the Buds just their second regulation loss in their past nine games.

Matthews led all Leafs players in shots on net with six, while Brown was second-best in that regard with four. But Toronto's entire lineup was unable to shoot themselves out of the hole they'd dug in the second period. 
 
5. Leafs' normally-reliable power play fails to convert on any of three chances. The Leafs had the NHL's top-rated power play (with a success rate of 24.1 percent) prior to the game, yet couldn't capitalize on any of the three man-advantages they had against Buffalo Saturday. The second of them came toward the end of the second period, when a Toronto goal would've given them a jolt of confidence heading into the third; and the third came eight minutes into the third, but the Buds were unable to consistently chip away at the lead, score on the power play late in the frame and put themselves in a position to pull McElhinney for a game-tying marker in the final few minutes. 

Toronto now begins preparations to square off against the Florida Panthers at Air Canada Centre on Tuesday. The Leafs still held the third position in the Atlantic Division after Saturday's games, but the Bruins and Islanders remain close to them in terms of playoff positioning. Toronto will need to close out their final eight games with a more consistent and effective performance at both ends of the ice than they had against Buffalo - and they'll have another chance to beat the Sabres when they return to Buffalo April 3 for their final head-to-head meeting of the regular-season.

 

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