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Five Takeaways - Leafs @ Sabres - 09/23/17

Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs' 3-1 pre-season victory over the Buffalo Sabres Saturday at KeyBank Center:

by Adam Proteau / MapleLeafs.com

van Riemsdyk's opening tally

TOR@BUF: van Riemsdyk pokes one home to open scoring

James van Riemsdyk crashes the net on a Nikita Zaitsev wrister and taps a rebound past Robin Lehner, giving the Maple Leafs an early 1-0 lead

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1. Leafs follow up strong game Friday with first period lead thanks to van Riemsdyk's early goal. One night after they beat the Sabres 3-0 in Toronto, the Leafs headed down to Buffalo for a rematch - albeit, one with drastically different lineups for both teams - and the Buds once again scored the first goal of the contest. However, unlike Friday's game, which had a first period that ended without a goal being scored by either side, Saturday's showdown saw the Leafs grab a lead at the 5:25 mark of the opening period when winger James van Riemsdyk netted his second pre-season marker.

The goal sequence began with centre Tyler Bozak's slick pass to blueliner Nikita Zaitsev, who earned the secondary assist on van Riemsdyk's goal; and winger Mitch Marner got the primary assist for his second helper of the pre-season. Equally impressive was the fact Toronto prevented the Sabres from getting a shot on netminder Frederik Andersen until nearly six minutes of the first period elapsed. The Buds kept the pressure on the home team and outshot the Sabres 12-5 in the period, and dominated in both the faceoff circle (where they won 72 percent of all draws) and in giveaways (Buffalo had eight to Toronto's three). 

The necessary caveat always has to be that, in non-regular-season games, coaches are always tinkering with lineups that aren't likely to resemble the ones they'll rely on once the regular season begins, so this should be seen for what it is: a work in progress. But for the second straight game, Toronto came out of the dressing room looking confident and hungry, and that's got to please head coach Mike Babcock as the Buds move toward the halfway point of the pre-season.

Video: TOR@BUF: Andersen makes two big stops on the PK

2. Andersen sharp in second, but Sabres push back, knot score at a goal apiece entering third. The Sabres put in a more spirited effort in the middle period and spent considerably more time in Toronto's zone, forcing Andersen to be at his best. The veteran was exactly that, turning aside high-quality chances by Jason Pominville early in the frame and Matt Moulson later in the period. However, Buffalo tied it up with 3:39 remaining until the second intermission when Sabres blueliner Rasmus Ristolainen's shot from the point was deflected by winger Hudson Fasching into the Leafs' net for the game-tying marker.

The Sabres continued to push after that and nearly took their first lead when winger Evander Kane had a golden opportunity directly in front of Andersen, but he jabbed out his right pad to rob Kane of what looked to be a sure goal, and the teams headed into the third period tied 1-1 thanks in no small part to Andersen's performance.

Video: TOR@BUF: Kapanen buries PPG to regain lead

3. Sabres' penalties pile up, lead to Kapanen's power play marker early in third as Leafs get back on top and youngster asserts himself. Toronto ended the second period on the power play - their second consecutive man advantage, and their third of the game - and kept pressure on the Sabres as the third period began, forcing Buffalo into heading back to the penalty kill just 47 seconds in when Moulson was called for slashing.

The Leafs needed only 11 seconds of that penalty to take the lead: D-man Connor Carrick drove toward Sabres goalie Robin Lehner and fired a backhand shot that rebounded out to Lehner's left side and right to winger Kasperi Kapanen, who was focused and prepared in scoring at the 58-second mark of the third. It was also created in part due to the traffic winger Kerby Rychel provided directly in front of Lehner, who was engaged with Rychel and unable to properly square up against Kapanen.

The gifted Kapanen has the capability to be a strong finisher at the NHL level, and with both the AHL Marlies and short spans with the Leafs in each of the past two seasons, the 21-year-old has shown a great capacity to work through obstacles and raise his game. His battle for an NHL roster spot will likely be ongoing on this deep Leafs roster, but that's a great sign for the organization, and an indication all ice time will have to be earned. You never want your prospects to be expectant, and Babcock's meritorious approach can only benefit the young Finn.

4. Kaskisuo is perfect in third, Soshnikov adds empty-netter to give Toronto its second consecutive win. Andersen finished his strong night after the second, stopping all but one of the 18 shots he faced - and his replacement, Kasimir Kaskisuo, was perfect in the third, preventing the Sabres from scoring on any of their final seven shots. Just as they'd received the night before from netminders Curtis McElhinney and Garret Sparks, the Leafs' net was terrifically minded - and for the second straight game, Toronto gave their goalies some breathing room in the final seconds with an empty-net goal.a

In this case, it was winger Nikita Soshnikov who made Buffalo pay for pulling their goaltender for an extra man with in regulation. Soshnikov - another Buds forward in a hard-fought battle for an NHL job - scored into an open net with 1:10 left in the game to ensure the Leafs would win their second game in a row.

5. Buds' blueliners stepping up with offence, consistent smart play in own zone. The Leafs' depth up front is certainly an area of pride for the organization, but Toronto's defence corps is growing in terms of genuine battles for jobs and the ability of the blueliners to contribute on offence.

Three Leafs D-men - Carrick, Zaitsev and rookie Calle Rosen - chipped in with an assist, and Jake Gardiner, the only member of the top four blueliners not to get on the scoresheet, nonetheless gave the Buds a team-high 26:19 of stellar ice time. Rosen in particular also impressed in his 18:55, playing both on the power play and shorthanded and availing himself very well. The 23-year-old Swede was brought into the organization as an unrestricted free agent this summer, and he looks very comfortable in a North American rink playing a different style of game. His work with Carrick could give Toronto a formidable third pairing when the regular season begins.
 

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