Fringe Leafs don't help their cause

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:15 AM ET

BUFFALO — After five games in five nights, time for Maple Leafs’ management to take five on Sunday and decide who should stay for the home stretch of training camp.

The bubble boys didn’t help their cause much on Saturday night in a 3-1 loss to the Sabres, but neither did the home team, which hadn’t yet staged a pre-season game and unleashed about 15 regulars against the mostly green Leafs for the faithful at the HSBC Arena.

That meant several young Leafs were in chase mode all night in their end with the Sabres’ transition game in good form, coughing the puck up a few times at the first sign of trouble and going long stretches without any sustained attack. Toronto, which was outshot 44-25, is now 2-2-1 in September.

For embattled centre Nazem Kadri, given another chance to make a statement on a quality line with Luca Caputi and Colby Armstrong, it was a minus-2 night, in a camp that’s provided him far more frustration than points after three games.

“He showed me (tonight) that he turns the puck over a lot and he has to get over that,” coach Ron Wilson said in a continuing critique of the first-round pick.

“I don’t know how sharp his skates are, because he can’t stop when there is a turnover, he goes for a big skate. There are a lot of little junior things we have to get out of his game.

“Some of our young guys struggled under the intense pressure that Buffalo can apply. We had basically one line and a mixed bag.”

But Kadri will likely survive Sunday’s deep cuts from a field of 51, which Wilson said he and GM Brian Burke wanted down to about five lines and eight defencemen, with four NHL exhibitions still to play.

After a nervous first couple of shifts and a tripping penalty, Kadri made two nice forechecking moves to keep the puck alive in the Buffalo zone for a scoring chance.

But it was his pass getting picked off that led to Buffalo’s second goal.

Caught up ice by the turn of events, defenceman Juraj Mikus couldn’t get back in time to help Mike Komisarek on the 2-on-1.

Tyler Ennis got Jonas Gustavsson to open up and finish the play.

“It’s tough finding chemistry,” Kadri admitted, as he moves from line to line, realizing he has to show different sides to his game.

When all-world Sabres’ goalie Ryan Miller departed halfway through the game after a light nine-save workload, Kadri had the first chance to draw blood on rookie Jhonas Enroth, but didn’t get much on his shot during a partial break.

Line dancing

Wilson likes last year’s pairing of Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin pairing, which just about settles who will make up the top-six forwards.

Those two and Clarke MacArthur on the right wing puts them in position behind Kris Versteeg-Tyler Bozak-Phil Kessel. The Grabovski-Kulemin duo combined for Toronto’s lone goal, Kulemin fishing the puck from Grabovski’s skates as he scrummed Rob Niedermayer and flicking it in.

Wilson once more committed to using Fredrik Sjostrom and Colby Armstrong on a line after the game, with Mike Brown and Colton Orr on the fourth unit.

The three centres up for those jobs on those lines are Kadri, John Mitchell and Christian Hanson.

You see Jussi?

Wilson had said Tuesday morning that Saturday was to be a full game for Jonas Gustavsson with an eye to getting him ready for October, but Jussi Rynnas began warming up in the tunnel the halfway point.

Just when it appeared Gustavsson would get to the 10-minute mark of the second period with only one-goal against, the Ennis goal ruined his night. Rynnas then gave up a goal on the first shot he faced by Rob Niedermayer, but it was a 3-on-1 on a cold goalie created when rookie defenceman Jesse Blacker fell up ice.

Rynnas steadied himself the rest of the way, but Gustavsson is going to need a hot game next week to make Wilson think otherwise of using Jean-Sebastien Giguere on opening night.

Game on

Hanson, hoping to land at least fourth-line duty at centre, played the wing for one of his competitors, Mitchell, with Marcel Mueller on the left side. The line was running around when defenceman Andrej Sekera put a blue-line screen shot through for Buffalo’s first goal ... German free agent import Mueller has played well only in spurts and is definitely looking at starting with the Marlies ... Grabovski wasn’t going to fight Buffalo’s big Calder Trophy winning defenceman Tyler Myers, but give him credit for not taking a cross-check from the 6-foot-8 Sabre without jawing with him ... Hanson was caught looking the wrong way in his zone when Buffalo’s Zack Kassian came through like the 7:15 p.m. express from Fredonia and buried him with his left shoulder. Hanson also took two penalties ... Ex-Sabre MacArhur couldn’t line up for any faceoff without getting into friendly banter with ex-teammates, but that will be a no-no in the regular season. He had the first of Toronto’s eight second-period shots, a partial breakaway that Miller gloved ... When No. 83, newly signed junior Andrew Crescenzi, gets going, many in press box get a Doug Gilmour flashback because of the similar numbers and the restored Leaf shoulder patch ... The Sabres have been champing at the bit to play their first exhibition game and with only two of them at home, they went with a near-exclusive veteran lineup. But they did use left winger Luke Adam and defenceman Brayden McNabb ... The teams play again in on Monday night at the Air Canada Centre.

lance.hornby@sunmedia.ca


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