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Five Takeaways - Leafs vs. Sabres - 09/22/17

Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs' 3-0 pre-season win over the Buffalo Sabres Friday at Ricoh Coliseum:

by Adam Proteau / MapleLeafs.com

1. Leafs pile up shots in opening frame, but neither side produces offence in first 20 minutes. Playing in front of a full house of 8,178 in the home of their American League affiliate Marlies team, the Leafs came out of the gate flying, and put up a barrage of shots - including a breakaway shot from centre Auston Matthews - on Sabres netminder Linus Ullmark, outshooting Buffalo 14-6 through the first 20 minutes of action. However, Ullmark was sharp, and the two teams entered the first intermission tied at 0-0.

The Leafs came into the game 0-2 in their pre-season schedule and part of the reason for that was a steady stream of players headed to the penalty box. (In fairness, this was true of most NHL teams as they adjusted to a new set of standards for slashing and faceoff violations.) But Toronto took only one minor penalty in the first, while Buffalo was assessed two minors; the Buds' discipline was coming around, and as a result, their opponent's chances were limited.   

Video: BUF@TOR: Rielly lights the lamp with a nifty PPG

2. Rielly rushes for slick power play marker, nets night's first goal. The Leafs didn't let up in the least once the second period began, and forced the Sabres into a slashing call at 3:09 of the frame. On the ensuing power play, defenceman Morgan Rielly picked the puck up just inside Toronto's blueline, moved it quickly up and through the center of the rink, split Buffalo's defenders inside their zone, and unleashed a sizzling wrist shot past the glove side of Ullmark to give the Buds the game's first lead at the 3:43 mark.

Once again, the Leafs dominated on possession, getting eight shots on the Sabres' net in the first half of the second period (to only three for Buffalo in that span), and they were rewarded for it thanks to Rielly's slick individual effort.   

3. Toronto's constant pressure puts Sabres on their heels, and on penalty kill. Toronto used their speed and skill to pressure Buffalo into giving them five power play opportunities through the first 40 minutes, and the Sabres had even trouble keeping up with them in the third, taking three minors in the first 6:45 of the final regulation period to boost the Leafs' total number of man advantages to eight before the third was halfway over (and nine in total).

Ullmark had to be at his best to keep the Buds' lead at a single goal, but Toronto constantly had the puck in the visitor's zone - and when they didn't have it, they were taking it to the Sabres with a robust physical attack. This was the Leafs' best showing of the pre-season by far, and it showed in their energy, cohesion and the constant waves of attack that kept Buffalo on their heels most of the night.

4. Toronto benefits from solid play between the pipes. Goalie Curtis McElhinney turned aside all 14 Sabres shots he saw through two periods, and Garret Sparks, his replacement to start the third frame, also was solid at an arena he's called home for the past two seasons. Sparks didn't see much action - Buffalo only managed four shots in the final period - but he ensured Rielly's goal stood up as the game-winner and teamed with McElhinney to post a shutout. Can't ask for more from your goaltenders than that.

5. Empty-netters from Komarov, Nylander seal Leafs' first pre-season win, set stage for rematch Saturday in Buffalo. The Sabres pulled Ullmark with just under two minutes left in regulation and Buffalo got a couple of chances to tie things up, but the Leafs cleared the zone and winger Leo Komarov won a race for the puck before firing it into the empty net to make it 2-0 and effectively seal the victory for the home side. Sabres coach Phil Housley went back to a six-man attack immediately after Komarov scored, and once again, the Leafs responded with a goal when winger William Nylander posted an empty-netter with 10 seconds left.

The crowd at Ricoh left happy, but the team immediately set their sights south to Buffalo, where they'll square off against the Sabres again Saturday night at KeyBank Center. Toronto now has five pre-season games remaining before their regular-season kicks off Oct. 4 in Winnipeg against the Jets, and if the Leafs can build on Friday's effort with a similarly spirited and smart approach in that span, they'll be in a good position when the season begins.
 

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