By Stan Smith
The Toronto Maple Leafs scored four goals on nine shots in just over 12 minutes of the first period on their way to a 6-3 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night.
To break things down to simple basics the first period was Good, the second period was Bad, and the third period was Ugly. Overall though, the Good far outweighed the Bad and the Ugly.
3:51 of the first period: Ryan O’Reilly opens the scoring in the game with assists from Mitch Marner and John Tavares.
4:28 of the first period: O’Reilly makes the score two nothing with assists from Marner and Tavares on the same shift.
7:14 of the first period: Tavares makes the score three nothing with assists from O’Reilly and Marner on their next shift.
12:09 of the first period: Michael Bunting gets in on the action with assists from Morgan Rielly and William Nylander.
According to the broadcast team, Marner, O’Reilly, and Tavares became the first three Maple Leafs’ players to each score three points in the same period, in franchise history.
O’Reilly would add an empty-net goal with a minute and ten seconds left in the game with an assist from Marner.
Marner and Tavares would also assist on a power play goal by Nylander to put the Maple Leafs up 5-0 in the second period.
The line of O’Reilly, Tavares, and Marner would finish the game with a total of 13 points. Marner had five assists in the game. O’Reilly finished with a hat trick and an assist. Tavares had a goal and three assists.
O’Reilly’s four points increased his point total for the season by 20%.
Marner went from 15th to 9th in league scoring. He also became the first Maple Leafs’ player to record five assists in one game in 26 years. Doug Gilmour was the last Maple Leafs’ player to accomplish that feat on January 21st, 1997.
Marner could easily have had three more points in the game. Auston Matthews hit a post on a pass from Marner and then Marner followed it up by hitting the post himself on the same shift. Marner also sent O’Reilly in alone on a breakaway on which O’Reilly failed to score.
Tavares now has the same number of goals as Matthews (26) and has three more points (60 to 57).
Nylander now has 32 goals on the season and needs only three more goals to surpass his career-high 34 goals in a season. He needs 13 more points to surpass his career-high 80 points and is on pace to score 96 points this season.
After playing their best period of the season in the first period, scoring four goals, outshooting Buffalo 15-8, and carrying 64% of the five-by-five scoring chances, 67% of the High-Danger Chances, and 65% of the Expected Goals, the Maple Leafs started to sit back and allow the Sabres to carry the play in the second period.
The Sabres outshot the Maple Leafs 11-5 at five-on-five. They also had 59% of the Scoring Chances and 66% of the Expected Goals. The Maple Leafs did limit the Sabres to three High-Danger Scoring Chances in the period while generating four of their own. They also tied the period score-wise 1-1.
Some defensive lapses by the Maple Leafs in the third period and some iffy goaltending by Ilya Samsonov allowed the Sabres to crawl back into the game by scoring three goals in just over 11 minutes and pulling to within two, at 5-3, before O’Reilly’s empty-net goal put the game away.
The Maple Leafs have two days to get some practice in with the new additions before taking on the Minnesota Wild on Friday night. They then head out on the road for five games before returning home for four games and then heading back out on the road for another five games.
It will be interesting to see (A) when Matt Murray returns from LTIR, (B) what different line combinations head coach Sheldon Keefe comes up with after the team has a chance to get in some additional practice, and (C) whether or not general manage Kyle Dubas makes any more moves before the trade deadline next Friday.