TORONTO - Linus Ullmark offered the most succinct description of the way the Buffalo Sabres began their game at Scotiabank Arena on Friday night.
"We were off to a really good start," the goaltender said. "And then it turned into a bad start."
Andrew Oglevie opened the scoring for the Sabres thirty seconds into the contest, only to see the Toronto Maple Leafs answer with a barrage of three goals over the next 3:11. The end result was a 5-3 loss, but when it was all said and done the Sabres' response stood out more than the start itself.
Goals from C.J. Smith and Tage Thompson had the game tied early in the second period. When the Sabres surrendered the lead again shortly after, they kept the deficit at one goal until John Tavares buried an empty-netter with 44 seconds remaining.
"I loved the way we responded," Sabres coach Phil Housley said. "We were facing some big-time adversity there when it was down 3-1. Our guys came back and got that period back."
"… I thought our compete, our effort, our conditioning is right where it needs to be. Give them credit, they scored some opportunistic goals. But even saying that, Linus made a couple huge saves for us to keep it at one and we had a couple really good looks right down towards the end."
Video: Tavares' two goals help Maple Leafs top Sabres
The Maple Leafs were always going to be a tall order for the Sabres, given the composition of their lineups. Toronto had a veteran-laden lineup headlined by Tavares, Mitch Marner, Nazem Kadri and Morgan Reilly. Buffalo's was largely a mix of prospects, some new to the pro game.
Add in the fact that it was the Maple Leafs' (and Tavares') first home game of the preseason and the atmosphere that comes with that, and you have a good test for a young team.
"I think a lot of our young guys got a really valuable experience," Housley said. "Not only just the atmosphere, the building and the history here, but just the pace of play and just processing that because it was a high-tempo game and they looked a little bit faster than us early on."
Toronto applied pressure following Oglevie's early goal, forcing the Sabres into costly turnovers and defensive lapses. The line of Thompson, Casey Mittelstadt and Alexander Nylander was on the ice for two of Toronto's first three goals, and Thompson acknowledged that the skill of the opposition was a step above what they had seen to this point in the preseason.
"I think it was a good learning lesson," Thompson said. "I think as a team and individually, we didn't come out the way we needed to. They're a very fast and skilled team and if you give them time and space, they're going to make you pay out there."
Housley was quick to make changes, shifting the veteran Vladimir Sobotka between Thompson and Nylander and placing Mittelstadt on a line with Zemgus Girgensons and Oglevie. The Sabres began to settle down, taking an 18-16 lead in shot attempts by the end of the first period.
"It wasn't working, right? So, you try to make some changes and they got some momentum off of it," Housley said. "It was great that they responded the right way. I mean we were down 3-1, it could have been ugly. But the guys scraped their way back into the first period and gave us some life going into the second."
The names that showed up in the goal column were promising for a team looking to foster internal competition. Oglevie, Smith and Thompson have a combined 43 NHL games under their belts, but all three are promising prospects with aspirations of making the Sabres roster this season.
Smith scored his goal off an offensive-zone faceoff, beating a defender as he cut across the net to create a wide-open shot. Thompson's goal was the product of a toe-drag followed by a laser of a wrist shot from the slot.
Video: BUF@TOR: Thompson toe drags, snaps one past Sparks
Oglevie, meanwhile, had earned more ice time with his play in the preseason opener in Columbus, when he scored by crashing the net and cashing in on a rebound. He repeated that effort to begin the game on Friday.
Video: BUF@TOR: Oglevie puts home rebound for early goal
"I just really like the way he's playing," Housley said. "He's finding the holes, he's got a good knack of knowing where the puck's going to be, and he buries another one. It's just great to see him contribute to our team and he's had a terrific camp."
The Sabres will rematch with the Maple Leafs at home on Saturday, this time with a lineup that should more closely resemble what we're going to see on opening night. As for Friday, Ullmark summed up the outcome as well as he had summed up the start.
"We had a lot of new guys coming in here, first game, big scene against Toronto, hockey's mecca. I think a lot of the guys really enjoyed it and hopefully [they] did, because I did," he said. "Even though we came out with a loss, it was a lot of fun.
"It sucks that we lose, I never want to go home with a loss, but we've got to be humble and just got with the flow, you know? It was something that was definitely a learning experience."
Pilut continues his strong camp
Lawrence Pilut has been among the standouts at training camp, earning praise from Housley for his poise and creativity with the puck. The rookie defenseman continued his strong showing in Toronto and was rewarded with a team-high 25:31 of ice time.
Pilut also led the Sabres with four shots and seven shot attempts to go along with three blocked shots.
"I love it," he said. "I love to play a lot, that's what I want to do all the time. I just want to be out there and contribute with my game and try to create stuff all the time."
Pilut said he's grown more confident with each passing game, and it's been evident. He stands out with his offensive talents and hasn't shied from leading the rush, but he's poised in his own end as well. At one point of the third period he was making a diving poke check to prevent a would-be goal for Toronto. Later, he was winning a battle with Tavares and calmly executing a breakout.
"I just thought he was pretty savvy and poised with the puck," Housley said. "He was into the game, he made some really nice plays joining the rush. Sometimes he gets a little bit antsy and tries to do too much with good intention. We've just got to reel that in a little bit, but you can't fault him for his effort."
The Sabres play the home portion of their back-to-back set with the Maple Leafs at KeyBank Center on Saturday. The game can be seen live on MSG-B, or you can listen to Dan Dunleavy and Rob Ray on the call on WGR 550. Puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m.