November 26, 2010
Sabres hand Leafs another lossEarly penalty trouble bites Leafs against Sabres
By MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency
BUFFALO — For shoppers in the U.S., Black Friday means great post-Thanksgiving bargains at the local mall.
For the Maple Leafs and their fans, Black Friday means yet another defeat in Buffalo.
In watching their record in the Queen City plop to 27-55-8, the Leafs, as so often has been the case in previous visits here, were the authors of their own demise.
In a nutshell: First they lost their composure. Then they lost the game.
Certainly, this cannot be the type of truculence general manager Brian Burke was preaching when he took over the Leafs two years ago. An aggressive style is all well and good, but not when you lose your discipline the way Colton Orr and the Leafs did in their 3-1 loss to Ryan Miller and the Sabres at the HSBC Arena on Friday night.
The Sabres’ gameplan seemed obvious; physically come after the Leafs from the opening faceoff, then hope the emotional visitors get sucked into taking retaliation penalties.
In the end, it worked to perfection, thanks to Sabres superpests Paul Gaustad and Patrick Kaleta.
Gaustad got the Leafs’ blood boiling just 1:55 into the game when he pushed Phil Kessel from behind into the boards.
True, Gaustad received a two-minute minor for his actions. But given the Leafs’ misfiring power-play, there was no harm done on the scoreboard.
More importantly, the blow seemed to take the fragile Kessel off his game for much of the period. For the Sabres, mission accomplished.
But the rough stuff wasn’t over. Far from it.
Just three minutes later, Kaleta made a beeline for Nikolai Kulemin and flattened him, much to the glee of the Sabres bench.
Luke Schenn, legitimately feeling that Kaleta had taken a Steve Webb-like charge at the Leafs forward, immediately dropped the gloves with Kaleta in what turned out to be one of the more entertaining bouts of the season.
Had the Leafs’ quest for revenge ended with Schenn’s fists hitting Kaleta’s face, it would not have been so bad for Ron Wilson’s team.
But when Orr decided to take matters into his own hands, the Leafs would pay a heavy price.
Still seething over the earlier hit on Kessel, Orr grabbed Gaustad near the Sabres bench and began working him over like a rag doll. With Gaustad wanting no part of any fisticuffs with Orr, Sabres defenceman Mike Weber came in to intercede.
By the time the penalties had been weeded out, Orr had been slapped with six minutes in roughing penalties while Weber received just two, leaving the Leafs shorthanded for four minutes.
With Orr in the box, Jordan Leopold scored a power-play goal at 6:05 to put the hosts up 1-0. Then just 105 seconds later, with the Leafs now two men short thanks to a needless Kris Versteeg elbowing minor, Thomas Vanek widened the gap to 2-0 by ripping a shot past a helpless Jonas Gustavsson.
Had the Leafs shown any kind of restraint when physically goaded by the Sabres, this early-game mess could have been avoided.
Instead, after just 7:50 of play, they found themselves down 2-0, a deficit they could never make up.
Kaleta then scored a shorthanded goal in the third period to seal the deal.
The score would have been far worse, too, if not for the heroics of Gustavsson. The porous Leafs defence consistently allowed Sabres defenders to find themselves all alone in front of the Toronto net, only to have Gustavsson make one miraculous stop after another, none better than the split save he made off Vanek late in the first.
Kessel would break Miller’s shutout bid with less than five minutes remaining, a shorthanded goal scored while Orr (who else?) was in the box.
Like so many previous visits to Buffalo, it wasn’t nearly enough.