At a time when the Sabres needed a big goal, Mark Pysyk stepped up.
Pysyk tallied three points and scored the winning marker with 4:55 remaining in the third period to lead the Buffalo Sabres to a 6-4 preseason victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday at Air Canada Centre.
Marcus Foligno, Nicolas Deslauriers, Brian Gionta and Ryan O’Reilly also scored for the Sabres and David Legwand added an empty-net goal late to seal the win. Sam Reinhart had a strong offensive showing with three assists.
The Sabres were on the power play with less than five minutes to go in a 4-4 tie when Pysyk was set-up by Reinhart for a slap shot that found the back of the net. In total, four of the Sabres’ six scores -- three on the power play and another shorthanded -- came on special teams.
“Special teams probably stood out the most,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. “It seemed to be a factor again, on both sides of the puck.”
The goals from Foligno and Gionta both came on the power play while O’Reilly’s goal, a redirect off of a blue-line shot by Brendan Guhle to give the Sabres a 4-3 lead in the second period, came with the Sabres down a man to mark their third shorthanded goal in as many games.
“I think special teams over the season are gonna win games sometimes,” O’Reilly said. “Sometimes you have a hot PK, you get one opportunity and you bury it … I think our 5-on-5 play has got to be a lot stronger, but when you perform special teams like that and find ways to win games, it’s big.”
O’Reilly’s score capped a three-goal second period for the Sabres. Buffalo gave up a power-play goal to Toronto’s Matt Frattin to give the Leafs a 3-1 lead to begin the second, but Gionta tipped in a shot by Cal O’Reilly shortly after to cut the lead back down to one. Then Deslauriers scored four minutes later to tie the game.
Toronto’s Nazem Kadri opened the third period with a goal to re-tie the game at four, setting the stage for Pysyk’s eventual game-winner.
“Mark definitely played a very good game,” Bylsma said. “Real responsible defensively, good defensively, but also we saw him jump up throughout the game on the offensive side.”
Robin Lehner made his second start of the preseason in net for the Sabres, making 22 saves on 25 attempts in two periods of action. Nathan Lieuwen, who relieved Lehner to begin the third, stopped seven of eight shots.
A FAMILY AFFAIR
Cal and Ryan O’Reilly knew on Thursday that they would play as teammates for the first time ever against Toronto. But it wasn’t until right before game time that Bylsma let them know they would both play on the starting line -- a special gesture for the brothers in front of dozens of friends and family members.
“It’s a real nice thing for him to do, to kind of give us that honor to play with each other and start a game for us,” Cal said.
“Any time you get over 30 tickets to a game, you should probably get in the starting lineup. They were just fighting which was gonna play center, that’s all,” Bylsma said. (Ryan, who spent time on the wing with Colorado, eventually volunteered.)
The start of the game wasn’t their last chance to share the ice. Although the two players returned to their respective lines following the first shift, they were both a part of the same power play unit and both were on the ice when Cal registered the assist on Gionta’s goal in the second period.
“He’s a great player and he’s awesome on the power play,” Ryan said of his older brother. “For him to pretty much create that goal is a great thing and it’s nice to both contribute like that.”
REINHART PLAYS WINGMAN
After spending his first preseason game at center, Sam Reinhart was placed on the left wing alongside Cal O’Reilly and Justin Bailey on Friday. The results were positive, with the 2014 second-overall pick earning his first three points of the preseason with assists on each of the Sabres’ first two goals in addition to setting up Pysyk’s winner.
In the midst of a first-period power play, Reinhart hit Marcus Foligno with a perfect cross-ice pass and Foligno delivered a one-timer to put the Sabres on the board. In the second period, Reinhart received a short pass from Jake McCabe and immediately sent it across the blue paint to find Deslauriers, who put it in an open net to pull the Sabres within one.
“I was playing a different position and there were some things you get used to but I thought it was a good performance for the most part,” Reinhart said. “There were still some things to clean up.”
Bylsma, who has said throughout camp that he plans to use Reinhart both at center and on the wing, said he was impressed with the young player’s performance.
“I thought he did a good job,” Bylsma said. “I thought he played real strong on the wall and it carried over to the power play in the third period. The first unit came out and didn’t get us a goal and they came out, made a couple of nice plays on the wall there and it turned into the goal for us.”
The Sabres’ next preseason game will be played Saturday in Ottawa against the Senators at Canadian Tire Centre. Puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m. The game can be heard live on WGR 550 with Dan Dunleavy and Rob Ray on the call.