Well, there goes the good times.
For the 11th time this season, the Maple Leafs followed a win, in this case Saturday’s riotously fun win over Pittsburgh, with a loss.
Not too surprising. As Leafs coach Ron Wilson has often reminded, you are inconsistent when your talent level is-sub par. For a team without a great number of the essentials, lockdown goaltending, a physically dominant first line, a youthful core, winning games can seem like pushing a boulder up a hill.
Score it 4-1 Tuesday, just so you know, for the Buffalo Sabres who pumped three first-period goals past Leafs rookie Justin Pogge and cruised home with a minimum of fuss and suspense.
That Pogge gave up two goals on his first five shots carries a certain contrast factor when you consider the Leafs beat Ryan Miller just once..
“A couple of those goals they shouldn’t happen,” Pogge said. He was gently booed when he made an easy stop midway through the frame. “It should have been maybe 1-0 after the first period and it’s a different game. It’s not the guys’ fault, it’s my fault.”
Pavel Kubina, minus one on the night with two minor penalties and a grievous error that allowed a tap-in goal, saw it differently.
“We need a better start,” Kubina said. “We didn’t do a good job in front of Pogge in the first period. We have to get a better start. That’s what’s been hurting us all year.”
Was Pogge the problem? Well, it has been the case all season long, the goaltending was part of the problem because it wasn’t a meaningful part of the solution. Naturally enough, the Leafs don’t like to look at it that way.
“It’s not a matter of anybody letting anybody down,” said forward Dominic Moore. “It’s a matter of being better all around. That’s the way you mature as a team.”
The first goal came when Drew Stafford circled around the net and popped a shot past Pogge. But then Daniel Paille tipped in a shot from the crease. When Jonas Frogren committed a terrible giveaway, Matt Ellis grabbed the puck and somehow found room between the Leafs goalie and the post.
Jason Blake found Kubina for a tap-in on a power play around the game’s midway point but the Sabres salted things away when Stratford picked a puck out of the scrum and put it behind Pogge for another power play goal.
Notice these descriptions. They don’t include the words ‘flubbed,’ ‘misplayed’ or ‘gaping five-hole’
But the Leafs lost 4-1. Who do you blame? Well, everyone. There were giveaways a plenty, and while scraps that featured Jamal Mayers and Jaime Sifers against Buffalo combatants raised the temperature a bit, the game was like so many this season: not enough jam from a team that was toast.
Who do you credit?
Start with the Sabres who played a strong road win. The victory moved the Sabres to 30-22-6 and they remain in the mix for a spot on the bottom quadrant of the East Division playoff bracket.
“The difference tonight in the game, it wasn’t Justin Pogge it was (Buffalo goalie) Ryan Miller and the way he played the first 10, 11 minutes of the game,” said Leafs’ coach Ron Wilson.
“He made six or seven huge saves. “
Pogge, meanwhile, settled down nicely.
“In the second and third period he showed he is going to be a solid NHL goalie,” Wilson said.
Pogge will be back in net when the Leafs play Columbus on Thursday in place of Vesa Toskala.”
“We had him (Toskala) get an MRI with a dye injected,” Wilson said. “He’s been having some problem with his hip. The MRI showed no structural damage at all. He has to have a day or so off because the dye can cause some discomfort. Doctors told me he is okay to practice on Friday and play on Saturday.”
The Leafs play Vancouver and welcome back Mats Sundin on Saturday and presently sit 27th place in the league standings.