It was a well-deserved victory

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 11:34 AM ET

BUFFALO -- Those who watch the Buffalo Sabres play on a regular basis have learned to expect a high-tempo, high-scoring game.

That's exactly what they got last night. But for the first time this year, the Sabres were the victims, not the aggressors, and the Maple Leafs, who usually submit meekly on their visits to Buffalo, came away with a well deserved 4-1 victory.

The Sabres' speed is always difficult to handle. It's not so much that they have straightaway speed -- although they do -- but they also have quickness. Once they get set up in the offensive zone, they dart into holes so quickly that the defenders are left at least one step behind.

None of the above is news to Maple Leafs coach Paul Maurice. And therefore, it's not news to his players.

Maurice, who prepares his players for games in a way that the Maple Leafs have not been prepared for years, devised a simple plan: When in Buffalo, play as the Buffalonians do.

There were plenty of quick passes made last night. But mostly, it was the Leafs who were making them. Players were darting into open areas to create opportunities. But they were mostly Leafs, not Sabres

But most importantly, the Leafs were told by Maurice that they had to out-skate the Sabres and beat them at their own game.

"You could interpret it that way," said the Leafs' Michael Peca, who produced another effective game last night. "It's also our game to skate and forecheck. If we're doing that, we're on top of our game.

"If we're standing around waiting for plays to happen, rather than making them happen, we're going to get caught flat-footed."

If you look around the league and see how teams are successful these days, there is a constant formula. No one team does it every night, but the Sabres come as close as anybody. And prior to last night, they hadn't lost a game in regulation time.

ON THE ATTACK

You have to go to the attack, get in on the opposition and spend time in the offensive zone.

That sounds obvious, but it's not as clear-cut as it seems. You don't go to the attack in the singular assumption that you'll get a goal. Even-strength goals are too scarce.

The theory is that in Gary's Game, teams win with power plays. Five-on-five scoring is static, but power-play scoring is well up over the pre-lockout era.

And it just so happens that more than 70% of the penalties are called on the defending team in the defensive zone.

So if you're attacking, your chances of getting a power play are dramatically increased. And the more power plays you get, the better your chances of scoring.

Of course, there's still the chance that you could score at even strength because you're on the attack.

There's a further advantage. By attacking, you play better defence.

"When you can control the puck in the offensive zone," Peca said, "when you're in position to cycle the puck and work it down there, you're in position defensively to allow your defencemen to stand up at the blue line and not have to worry about being left vulnerable through the neutral zone.

"A lot of the defensive game feeds off play in the offensive zone. Most people think it's more the defensive zone."

ONE POWER-PLAY GOAL

The Leafs scored only one power play goal last night -- although they could easily have had a couple more had it not been for the heroics of Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller.

But they built a strong territorial advantage and stayed on top of the Sabres. That's another advantage of turning on the offensive pressure. If you're on the attack; the other team isn't.

In short, Sabres hockey was in clear evidence here last night. But it was the Leafs who produced it, not the Sabres.


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