The first 40 minutes of the game weren’t pretty. But when it mattered most, the Leafs managed to pull off a comeback victory over the Buffalo Sabres.
It took a little bit of tinkering from interim head coach Peter Horachek. One of the moves saw Joffrey Lupul taken off his line with Peter Holland and Richard Panik and moved the fourth grouping with Zach Sill and Brandon Kozun.
“You want to see them respond and you want them to come back out, so I changed lines and changed positioning,” Horachek said. “You might do that differently with a veteran player like Joffrey is as opposed to a newer player. He’s a pro and he usually responds.”
Lupul finished the game as a minus-1 in 13:09 ice time.
This time, the supporting cast contributed in convincing fashion.
Making his NHL debut, Andrew MacWilliam registered an assist on the Leafs’ second goal.
“It’s a special feeling, you obviously dream about this your whole career,” said MacWilliam. “As a kid it’s something you think about a lot so it was great to get that experience.”
MacWilliam had family in attendance for his first game, and the Leafs acknowledged MacWilliam’s effort by giving him the camo hoodie — the dressing room award given to the player of the game by the previous winner.
He registered one assist in 12:24 ice time, which came on Brandon Kozun’s first goal in nearly a month to put the Leafs on the board in the first period.
Leo Komarov scored the Leafs second goal, his seventh on the season. The Maple Leafs improved to 9-0-1 all-time when Komarov scores a goal. The lone loss came in overtime when Komarov had the only multi-goal game of his NHL career game, scoring twice.
In the end, it took some leadership to pull out a win with the Leafs’ top unit coming through in the third period.
Down 3-2, Tyler Bozak deflected a Phil Kessel shot to force overtime. In the shootout, Bozak scored the only shootout goal.
“We were pretty embarrassed with the way we were playing in those first two periods,” acknowledged Bozak. “So we just said we had to bear down and have our best period and see what happens. It’s nice to get the two points and hopefully we can carry it forward into the trip.”
Jonathan Bernier picked up the win and gained some confidence going into the shootout. The goaltender has struggled posting one of the worst shootout save percentages among active goaltenders. The win was Bernier’s 20th of the season and he is now six away from matching his season high, which was set last season.
It was a tough day for all involved.
It started with Leafs president Brendan Shanahan delivering a message to the media that Nazem Kadri would not be playing in this game, as well as the next one coming up. It’s part of a message being sent to the young centre after an infraction on team rules.
Kadri’s talent can’t be denied and the Leafs made it clear that they see him as a key part of their future going forward. But in an age where the culture of the room is important, management is betting on making sure Kadri learns from this. Here’s hoping it all works out.