1. Sabres strike twice early in first, add another late in frame to stake out big lead. The Leafs were aiming to get back in the win column after dropping a 2-1 overtime decision to St. Louis Thursday in Toronto, but they didn't help their cause early in the opening period of Saturday's contest, allowing the Sabres to score twice in the first 5:08 (on a goal from winger Evander Kane and a power play marker from centre Sam Reinhart). Buffalo would go on to increase their lead with 1:58 in the frame on Kane's second goal of the night and 18th of the season, and the Buds headed into the first intermission without a goal and trailing by three.
Toronto outshot Buffalo 13-10 through the first 20 minutes, but, as has been the case of late, their offensive sets lacked crispness and the precision that has been part of their attack for much of the year. And the Sabres - who've lost both of their previous showdowns with the Leafs this season - were clearly hungry for revenge.
Video: BUF@TOR: Marner nets slick wraparound power-play goal
2. Leafs get on scoreboard toward end of second thanks to Marner's power play goal. Once again, the Buds outshot the Sabres in the middle frame - this time, by a 13-9 total - but struggled to generate offence for most of the period and failed to score on either of their first two power play opportunities. However, on their third man advantage (which came after Josh Gorges tripped winger Mitch Marner), Toronto finally beat Robin Lehner when Marner carried the puck behind the opposition's net and banked a shot in off the Sabres goalie at 15:57 to cut Buffalo's lead to 3-1.
The Leafs nearly added another before the second intermission, but Marner's goal - his 15th of the year and his team-leading 47th point of the season - helped give the home side a jolt of confidence heading into the third.
3. Toronto pours on pressure in third, but Lehner, Sabres buckle down to maintain edge. Leafs head coach Mike Babcock juggled his lines in the period, but returned the players to their familiar positions by the time it ended, and his players followed up with a solid start to the third. Twelve of the first 16 shots in the period were Toronto's and the Leafs outshot the Sabres 44-23 in total, but Lehner delivered a strong performance, and Buffalo's players blocked 20 shots on the night to help preserve the lead.
The pattern in Leafs losses lately has seen them stumble through a short stretch in which their defensive focus lapsed, then spend most of the remainder of the game pushing hard to dig out of the hole they'd dug for themselves. That was the case Saturday, and although Babcock pulled goalie Frederik Andersen with 3:45 left in regulation time in an effort to get them back into it, putting two goals past Lehner that late in the game proved too be too difficult a task to achieve.
4. Kadri makes no friends in Buffalo, but puts up one of Leafs' forwards' better efforts. Centre Nazem Kadri plays the type of edgy physical game that doesn't endear him to the opposition or their fans, and Sabres supporters and the team itself wasn't taking too kindly to him after his notable third-period hit on captain Brian Gionta as well as his drive to the net and collision with Lehner. But Kadri logged the most ice time of any Leafs forward (20:24), was tied with Marner for the team lead in shots-on-goal with five, and his five hits were second to defenceman Nikita Zaitsev (nine) on the squad.
Love him or hate him, you can't deny Kadri makes an impact all around the rink. His overall game has grown under Babcock's tenure, and though the Sabres will likely be looking for vengeance against him the next time the teams meet March 25 in Buffalo, he'll take that as a compliment.
5. With week ahead featuring a pair of back-to-back games, attention to detail a must for Leafs. Toronto's loss, combined with Boston's 4-3 win over Vancouver, vaulted the Bruins past the Leafs into third place in the Atlantic Division but the Buds were still in a playoff position, holding down the final wild-card berth, and still holding three games in hand on Boston while trailing the Bruins by a single point.
That said, the Leafs' schedule this week is going to be tough, as they have a pair of back-to-back games - Tuesday at home against the Islanders and Wednesday in Columbus; and Saturday against the visiting Senators, and Sunday in Carolina - against teams that all will present a serious challenge. Anything less than a opening-puck-drop-to-final-buzzer complete effort will likely see them struggle to keep pace in the tight race for a post-season berth.