Phil Kessel Joffrey Lupul

Phil Kessel scored his 20th goal of the year in a 3-2 Leafs win over the Buffalo Sabres. (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)

Ahh the feeling you get when the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Buffalo Sabres. It’s not quite the same as Montreal or Ottawa, but it still feels really good. The Leafs beat the Buffalo Sabres 3-2 last night in Toronto to keep them in a playoff spot. With the win, Toronto is tied for 6th place in the Eastern Conference with the Ottawa Senators (both with 38 points) but the Leafs also have a game in hand on the Sens. This game started off kind of boring with no one scoring until about midway through the 2nd when Jason Pominville scores on the PP to make it 1-0. I know, I know it was a PP goal but, the Leafs did fairly well on the PK last night allowing only the 1 goal on 6 chances. Later in the second, Luke Schenn shoots it from the point, the rebound comes right to David Steckel and he puts it in. 1-1. Then only a minute later, Joffrey Lupul comes down the wing and gives a nice pass across to Phil Kessel who scores his 20th on the season. 2-1. Side note: last Leaf to score 20 before Christmas, Mats Sundin in 1996 who had 41 that year. Early in the 3rd, the Sabres tie it up after a horrid giveaway by Mikhail Grabovski and Derek Roy converts it. 2-2. Later in the 3rd, newly called up Nazem Kadri takes a drop-pass from Clarke MacArthur and he snipes it home for the eventual game winner. 3-2.
Now, on with the stuff:

The Good

  • He got the game winner and was all over the ice all game long, Nazem Kadri. I have wanted Nazem up for a while now because of the ineffectiveness of Phillippe Dupuis. Then I finally got my wish on Wednesday when Kadri got called up after Dupuis got hurt (Bonus!). He was great all game and got his first goal of the season out of the way in only his 4th game.
  • The games first star, Phil Kessel was again a force tonight. He potted his 20th on the year and had 10 shots on goal. I said coming into this year that Kessel could break 40. After tonight, I think he’ll definitely break 40, maybe even 50 (as of right now he’s on pace for 48).
  • Something that surprised me looking at the stat sheet, Tyler Bozak played 23 minutes last night, the second most on the team.  He had a combined 8:49 on special teams. That shows just how much Ron Wilson trusts Bozak on the powerplay and penalty kill to send him out that much against a very strong team.
  • Despite his even strength ice-time, John-Michael Liles was again a strong player for the Leafs last night. He’s strung together a bunch of great games in a row now, both offensively and (surprising to me) defensively. He’s been making smart passes and is making great plays on defense as well.
  • He was great vs. LA even tough he lost, and he was great again tonight in a win. James Reimer stopped 40 of 42 shots and faced a combined 36 shots in the 2nd and 3rd periods. This is what james Reimer was supposed to do coming into this year. An injury slowed him down, but he looks to be getting back on track.

 

  • The newly created 4th line of Darryl Boyce, David Steckel and Joey Crabb provided energy the whole game. They used their size and speed to play some good dump and chase hockey and create scoring chances for each other. Boyce played a key part on Steckel’s goal screening Miller, Steckel scored and Crabb played 3:03 on the PK.

The Bad:

  • He was the sole cause of Buffalo’s 2nd goal, Mikhail Grabovski. He made a horrible choice trying to go up the left side when there were at least 3 Sabres there and turned it over to Roy who doesn’t miss those kind of chances. For the Leafs to do anything in the playoffs, Grabovski needs to get going.
  • I feel bad for doing this but Nikolai Kulemin wasn’t very good last night. As you all may know, Kulemin has had some rough times this year. He went on a huge scoring drought (that he finally ended last Friday) despite having a bunch of great chances. Last night, he didn’t get a lot of great chances and wasn’t as good as he usually is in the defensive zone.
  • I was a little shocked when Jake Gardiner was scratched last night. Not because of his play (he hasn’t been great recently) but because it was in favor of Keith Aulie. Last night, Aulie just looked out of it. He wasn’t his normal physical self and just made some weird choices. One nice play he had was on a 5 on 3 PK and the puck went down low on his side, the Sabres player attempted to pass it through but the 6’6 Aulie just lied down and took that space away, quickly

Well, that’s it for now. The Leafs play again tonight vs. the New York Islanders in Long Island, NY. Both the Leafs and Isles are playing a back-to-back. The Isles lost 4-2 last night to the NY Rangers.

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