BUFFALO — When the Maple Leafs stray away from home, they turn too much into the style of team general manager Brian Burke wishes they wouldn’t be.
A little too soft, a little too slow and far too easy to put away.
Toronto lost a seventh consecutive road game Friday night at the HSBC Arena, after a meek first period set the tone for a 3-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres.
After being outshot 16-5 in the opening 20, in large part because the Sabres were on the power play for much of it, the Leafs found themselves in a 2-0 hole. Even after picking their game up the rest of the way, the offensively challenged squad was no match for the Sabres and goaltender Ryan Miller.
“There’s no excuse to play soft on the road,” said defenceman Tomas Kaberle. “Good teams win on the road and we haven’t been able to do that lately.”
No kidding. You have to go back to Oct. 15 when the Leafs last won away from the Air Canada Centre and the offence has been mostly missing during that sorry stretch. When Phil Kessel scored a short-handed goal with 3:27 remaining in the third to spoil Miller’s shutout bid, it ended a run of 123 minutes and eight seconds between road goals.
In the seven-game road losing streak, the Leafs were shutout by Montreal, Tampa and Boston and Tampa and two other times were held to just one goal.
“We’re just being outworked and not competing hard enough and giving up too many turnovers,” said Leafs defenceman Luke Schenn, who won a spirited first-period scrap with the Sabres’ Patrick Kaleta. “It separates the men from the boys on the road a little bit. We’ve got to figure it out and get a lot better.”
Of particular concern is the struggling power play. After going 0-for-6 against the Sabres, Leafs coach Ron Wilson said the team is hitting at “about seven or eight per cent” on the road while clicking at 24% at the ACC.
“You have to ask the guys why we don’t seem to compete as hard on the road as we do at home,” Wilson said.
The Leafs will have little time to regroup before facing the Ottawa Senators Saturday night at the Air Canada — another divisional opponent that the Leafs need to show a little more spine against.
“These games are huge right now,” said Leafs forward Clarke MacArthur, who was held in check by his former Sabres teammates. “Whether the guys think it or not, these are must-win games. We’ve got to get something out of this weekend. We were off most of this week so we have no excuses.”