For the second time in three starts Jonas Gustavsson shutout the opposition. Tonight’s opponent was the Buffalo Sabres, and Gustavsson made two first period goals stand up for the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs received goals from Nikolai Kulemin (5th of the season) and Mikhail Grabovski (13th) during a dominant opening 2o minutes in which the buds outshot Buffalo 14-10. Kulemin capitalized on a Leafs power play as he banged in a loose puck through Sabres goalie Ryan Miller. Grabovski followed that up by lifting a backhander over Miller following an extended Sabres siege in the Leafs zone. Buffalo pressured the Leafs for thirty to forty seconds, eventually leading to an icing. Following a face-off win Buffalo continued possessing the puck in the Leafs zone only to have the pressure relieved when Robyn Regehr missed the net with a shot that caromed (or ric – o – chet as the fool Joe Bowen would say) all the way into the Sabres own end of the ice. Kulemin picked up that loose puck and fed the streaking Grabovski who scored on a perfect counter attack. The goal was Grabovski 8th as well as his 14th point in the last 7 games. Regehr lost his footing in the last meeting between these two teams allowing Phil Kessel to score a back breaking goal, and his bone-head move tonight directly led to the Leafs second goal of the game.
The remainder of the game wasn’t as eventful, but the Leafs demonstrated an ability to play a solid brand of defensive hockey. The Sabres outshot the Leafs 22-14 for the remainder of the game, but Gustavsson was there when needed. Although The Monster was full value in making the 32 saves, the Leafs played a great systematic defensive game keeping the Sabres to the outside. Mike Komisarek and Cody Franson specifically were strong on the night, punishing the Sabres’ smaller forwards at every opportunity. Komisarek looks like the defenseman that earned a reputation as a physical, shutdown player in the league. Dion Phaneuf played a game high 25:14 and took Sabres star Tomas Vanek out of the game in the first period as he crunched him along the boards. Keith Aulie shook off his struggles of late with a decent game. Aulie used his size when necessary and made strong decisions with the puck.
The win allowed the Leafs to leapfrog the idle New Jersey Devils and into 6th place in the Eastern Conference. It also opens up an 8 point gap between the Leafs and the high spending Sabres. These two teams meet again – in Buffalo – Friday night in a game in which the Leafs can really bury their struggling divisional rivals. This was also the Leafs 5th straight home win improving their record to 12-5-2 at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto also improved to 16-0-0 when leading after two periods. The question now becomes will the Leafs start Gustavsson in back to back starts this weekend, or does James Reimer get an appearance in one of those games. I really can’t see Wilson let Reimer not play at all this weekend, so look for him to start in one of those contests.
Men of the Match
Leafs: Nikolai Kulemin – His goal opened the scoring and he also made a nice play to get the puck to Grabovksi for a multi-point night. Kulemin also laid out super pest Patick Kaleta with a clean open ice crunch in the third period. Regardless of his offensive struggles, Kulemin is one of the Leafs’ best defensive forwards and he demonstrated those abilities once again tonight.
Sabres: Tyler Myers – While not many Sabres stood out tonight, the big defenseman had a strong night at both ends of the ice. Myers played a game high 27:44 and used his reach on a couple of occasions to thwart the blue and white. He also recorded 4 shots on Gustavsson as he was one of the only Sabres who showed any signs of life.
Bowenism of the Night
Joe and Greg discussed the specifics of geometry in the first period before admitting that they really didn’t know much on the subject.
Toronto heads down the QEW as they will finish off the home and home series with Buffalo.