TORONTO – Ryan Miller and Jason Pominville made sure the Buffalo Sabres secured another two points Monday night.
Miller made 34 saves and Pominville had a goal and an assist as the Sabres improved to 2-0-0 with a 2-1 victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre.
A day after combining for nine points against the Flyers, the Sabres’ first line once again came through in a big way.
Pominville’s second-period goal turned out to be the game-winner, and he also assisted on Cody Hodgson’s first-period marker to pace his club to back-to-back victories. Thomas Vanek’s assist now gives him six points on the season after a stellar five-point showing Sunday against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Miller got off to a quick start and shined when his team took three consecutive penalties in a span of 1:37 with just over five minutes left in the first period.
With Tyler Myers and Drew Stafford already in the box with minor penalties, Steve Ott was assessed a two-minute penalty for closing his hand on the puck, prompting Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle to call a timeout. However, once play resumed, his club tried in vain to get the puck past the Sabres’ netminder.
Miller made several tough saves with his club down two men, including stoning Phil Kessel twice from the slot. The 2010 Vezina Trophy winner also showed strong net presence when John Michael-Liles and Mikhail Grabovski crashed his crease while trying to jam home a Nazem Kadri centering pass.
"That was a crucial part of the game, I thought we had a couple of good blocks, I thought Ryan gave us three or four really good saves, that was the toughest part of the game," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said.
Dion Phaneuf almost tied the game at one on the man advantage, but he hit the crossbar. Miller would benefit from another Leafs shot off the post in the second period.
Early in the opening period, Miller set the tone for the night stopping Maple Leafs forward Joffrey Lupul on a chance in close not allowing a rebound. Lupul, fresh off signing a five-year, $26.25 million contract extension, swooped in on net after beating Sabres defenseman Alexander Sulzer to a loose puck in the offensive zone, but Miller held his ground and froze the puck to avert any further danger.
Miller had not won a game in Toronto since December 2009 and his long losing stretch at the ACC was something he was well aware of.
"I haven’t won here in a long time and I made a note of that, we needed to start strong and we came to play," said Miller. "They are team we play a lot, they are team we always want to push down, we always want to play hard when we come here, its exciting to play here and it felt good to pull out a victory here."
Toronto brought the play to Buffalo to start the second period, crashing the net and colliding with the Sabres at every opportunity. However, it was the visitors that got on the board as Pominville beat Ben Scrivens to finish off an odd-man rush with Vanek at 4:51 for his first of the season. Vanek was able to steal the puck after rubbing out Nikolai Kulemin along the boards, before racing into the Leafs’ end and making a perfect cross-ice pass to the streaking Pominville.
In his postgame press conference, Carlyle stopped short of placing the blame on Kulemin, but did allude to the play being a key turning point in the game.
"He pulled the puck off the wall and it got away from him," Carlyle said. "I don’t think the defenseman was where he should have been either. It was a rally killer."
John-Michael Liles had a glorious chance midway through the game. Pinching in from the blue line and heading towards the Buffalo net, he took a pass in stride but was unable to beat Miller who went cross crease, to turn away from seemed to be a sure goal.
"I kind of saw it coming, I saw John leave the point," Miller said. "Just the way the body language looked and the way things were setting up, I had to get across. He had a little bit of room there, but I was fortunate to get a pad down. He almost got it through the five-hole."
Hodgson opened the scoring at 8:51 of the first period, tipping in a Christian Ehrhoff shot from the point. The Buffalo defenseman had ample time to size up his drive from the blue line that made its way through heavy traffic and off the stick of Hodgson and behind Scrivens. It was Hodgson’s second goal of the season.
Kadri had the lone Maple Leafs goal late in the third, scoring his second goal in as many games by using his speed to get to a puck banked off the end boards behind Miller and depositing it in the Sabres’ net. The goal gave the home-crowd a jolt and the Leafs looked like they had new life moments later on the strength of a Lupul’s first of the season, but replays clearly showed the Leafs’ winger punched a loose puck with his fist past Miller.
In the waning seconds of the final period, with the Scrivens pulled for an extra player and the Sabres a man down with Hodgson in the box for tripping, the puck squirted to Kadri alone in front of the Buffalo net but with Miller prone, the puck hopped over his stick.
"I think our effort was there," Carlyle said. "I don’t think our execution was at the level required to get points."