Hinostroza, Krebs lead Sabers over Maple Leafs in Heritage Classic

HAMILTON – Kyle Dubas emphatically backed his goaltending last week.

Some 11 days later in the same building, the Maple Leafs general manager could only look on from a Tim Hortons Field private suite as another crease miscue cost his team yet more points in the standings.

Vinnie Hinostroza’s second goal of the game from a sharp angle was the difference Sunday in the Buffalo Sabers’ 5-2 victory over toronto in the Heritage Classic outdoor showcase.

With the score tied 2-2 in the third period, under-fire Leafs netminder Petr Mrazek failed to seal his post on the centre’s shot from the corner that snuck between his arm and near post for his 10th goal of the season.

“I knew he was going to shoot it,” Mrazek said following a 33-save showing. “I was too high.”

Despite watching another howler go in against his club, toronto head coach Sheldon Keefe declined to blame his goaltending on a windy afternoon and early evening after pulling Mrazek in Thursday’s 5-4 overtime lose to the Arizona Coyotes.

“I thought Petr was good,” he said. “It’s not an easy environment to play in, especially for a goaltender.

“He looked solid all things considered.”

Peyton Krebs buried two goals of his own for Buffalo (20-32-8), which got 34 stops from Craig Anderson. Tage Thompson had the empty netter to go along with an assist, while Hinostroza set up Krebs’ opener for a three-point performance.

Auston Matthews added to his NHL goal lead with his 45th of the season, while Ondrej Kase also scored for toronto (37-17-5).

After Hinostroza put the Sabers in front for the first time, Krebs made it 4-2 with 6:11 left with his sixth that trickled through Mrazek after the Leafs goaltender dislodged the net on a strange play that stood up after video review.

“I don’t know what the rule is,” Mrazek said. “I thought the post was out before the pass to the middle.”

Thompson added a short-handed empty netter for his 24th with 2:25 left in regulation as the Sabers – 33 points back of the Leafs in the standings at the start of play – downed toronto for the second time in 12 days.

Fans in attendance at the home of the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats, roughly 70 kilometers from toronto and 100 kilometers from Buffalo, bundled up on a day where the temperature felt like minus-7 C when factoring in the wind chill for the 4 pm local time puck drop.

“It was obviously an adaptation to the elements,” said Matthews, who had a cross-checking altercation with Sabers defenseman Rasmus Dahlin in the third. That cross-check earned Matthews a hearing with NHL player safety Monday.

Crews had to clear snow off the ice a couple of times prior to warm-ups at the first NHL regular-season game in Steeltown since March 1994, but the flurries mostly subsided once the action got underway in front of a sellout crowd of 26,119.

The Leafs sported dark blue jerseys that pay homage to the toronto Arenas – one of the franchise’s previous iterations that played from 1917 to 1919 – while the Sabers wore cream-colored threads.

torontowhich was booed off the ice at home March 2 following a 5-1 loss Buffalo, entered having surrendered four goals or more in nine of its last 11 games.

The Leafs have now lost to the Sabers (twice), Coyotes and Montreal Canadiens in recent weeks – clubs well below them in the standings – as they try to secure top spot in the Atlantic Division and avoid the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the playoffs.

“I don’t think that there’s ever a night off,” toronto defenseman Morgan Rielly said. “Teams come out and play us hard. It’s on us to respond. I don’t think it’s an issue for us long term, but as of right now it’s been tough sledding.”

“It’s something that we haven’t been happy with,” Keefe added. “We’re going to get more than enough opportunity to play against teams that are not to the bottom half of the league.”

Kase opened the scoring 40 seconds into the middle period when he shoveled a William Nylander rebound past Anderson for his 12th of the campaign.

Buffalo responded just 41 seconds later when Hinostroza stripped Leafs defenseman Timothy Liljegren and fed Krebs for his fifth.

“Vinnie’s an awesome guy,” Krebs said of his teammate. “Every night he brings it. It’s nice to see him get rewarded for that today, for sure. Good patience there, good play. All I had to do was hit the net. He was great for us tonight. It’s exciting.”

The Leafs reok the lead at 2:57 when Matthews fired his 45th on a shot that dribbled through Anderson to get within two of the star center’s career-high of 47 goals as “MVP” chants rang around Tim Hortons Field.

But the Sabers got back on even terms once again at 10:53 when Hinostroza’s pass struck toronto defenseman TJ Brodie in front and went in for his ninth.

Coming off an ugly performance where he allowed four goals on 12 shots before being pulled in Thursday’s loss to Arizona, Mrazek made a terrific glove save on Casey Mittelstadt early in the third before failing to stop Hinostroza’s winner.

“It doesn’t feel good when you lose the game,” Mrazek said. “When you win you always find more positive than negatives.”

Outdoors in the elements, it was once again more of the latter for toronto.

Notes: Mrazek got the start ahead of rookie Erik Kallgren with No. 1 goaltender Jack Campbell nursing a rib injury. … Anderson, who picked up his 300th career victory Thursday, won both his previous outdoor starts in 2014 and 2017 with the Ottawa Senators, while Mrazek was victorious in his only other action in the elements with the Detroit Red Wings in 2016. .. Brodie picked up an assist on toronto‘s second goal for the 300th point of his career. … Canada’s Olympic women’s hockey team, which won gold at last month’s Beijing Games, was honored before the game. … Ukrainian defenseman Artur Cholach of the Ontario Hockey League’s Barrie Colts dropped the puck for the ceremonial faceoff alongside Wayne Gretzky.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 13, 2022.

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