Maple Leafs un­pre­pared for Sabres from get-go

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - JONAS SIEGEL

TORONTO — Mike Bab­cock said he was “shocked” by how his Toronto Maple Leafs started against the Buf­falo Sabres on Satur­day night.

The Sabres scored two goals — 55 sec­onds apart — be­fore the Leafs even got their first shot at Robin Lehner, Mor­gan Rielly’s at­tempt com­ing more than nine min­utes into the open­ing frame. Buf­falo added another goal — the se­cond of the night for Evan­der Kane — be­fore the pe­riod was through.

“We weren’t ready to play any way you look at it,” Bab­cock said af­ter a 3-1 loss, the sixth de­feat in the past eight Na­tional Hockey League games for Toronto.

The Leafs are just hold­ing on to the Eastern Con­fer­ence’s fi­nal wild-card spot with 61 points through 54 games. A flood of teams, now in­clud­ing the Sabres with 56 points, are nip­ping at their heels.

Bab­cock stressed to his team be­fore­hand how lit­tle there was sep­a­rat­ing teams in the East, even those hov­er­ing near the bot­tom like Buf­falo. He won­dered af­ter­ward whether the mes­sage was re­ceived. “If you don’t pre­pare, you don’t win, it’s real sim­ple,” Bab­cock said. “You can cheat the sys­tem once in a blue moon. Not good enough.”

Bab­cock thought his team “gifted” the Sabres all three goals with a series of de­fen­sive er­rors.

The first goal saw Aus­ton Matthews get beat by fel­low Amer­i­can Jack Eichel on a de­fen­sive zone draw, Sam Rein­hart quickly shuf­fling off the loose puck to Kane, who fired the first of his two goals by Fred­erik An­der­sen.

Eichel, who fin­ished with a ca­reer-high three as­sists, ac­tu­ally lost nine of his 14 draws against Matthews, but won both in the Toronto zone.

His par­tial break on the fol­low­ing shift drew a hook­ing penalty from Leafs de­fence­man Jake Gar­diner and another goal ul­ti­mately for the Sabres, this one on the power play from Rein­hart. The Sabres some­how man­aged to get numbers be­hind the Leafs de­fence on the play, a streak­ing Kyle Ok­poso feed­ing the 21-year-old Rein­hart for 2-0 lead.

Buf­falo upped its lead to three when Eichel set up Kane’s 18th of the year be­hind the Toronto goal.

It was Mitch Marner who fi­nally got the Leafs on the board with four min­utes left in the mid­dle frame on a Toronto power play, scor­ing his 15th goal of the sea­son and team-lead­ing 47th point, also best for NHL rook­ies this sea­son.

FRANK GUNN, THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Sabres cen­tre Sam Rein­hart cel­e­brates his goal against Toronto in the first pe­riod of Buf­falo’s 3-1 win against the Leafs on Satur­day.

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