The Leafs shake things up and turn their back-to-back luck with a win at Buffalo

BUFFALO, NY – Welcome to the NHL, Joseph Woll.

Morgan Rielly’s wrist shot with 12 seconds remaining led the Maple Leafs to a 5-4 victory over the Buffalo Sabers and made a Woll winner in their NHL debut.

“It was something you dreamed of as a kid, and I’m happy that I was able to do it with the Leafs,” Woll said. “It was such a special team victory. It was great to see how much they turned their back on me.

“I did my best to stay in the moment and enjoy my time there.”

Rielly’s goal was the first of the year. He was relieved but happier for Woll, who faced 27 shots.

“I think he played very well,” said the defender. “He’s a smart boy, he spends time with him. You always want those guys to do well. You encourage them.

“Obviously, there are areas of our game that we would like to clean up. But the fact that he comes out of here with the victory and the game disc is incredible. He deserves it.”

It was an unusual set of circumstances, unusual lines, and some unusual suspects who made the initial scoring in support of Woll. Coach Sheldon Keefe launched new lines and, as if to prove he was right, the team received goals from David Kampf, Ondrej Kaše and Michael Bunting.

John Tavares added a power play goal in the third when it looked like the Leafs were going to sail to victory. But goals 59 seconds apart midway through the final draw by Jeff Skinner and Rasmus Dahlin had Woll fans on the edge of their seats.

“It’s good to get the win for him,” Keefe said. “His job is to get both points, so I’m happy for him.”

Michael Bunting looks skyward after scoring his first goal in seven games.

Unhappy coach: Keefe was unhappy with the Leafs’ effort, even though they won for the third time in a row and for the eighth time in nine games. It was also the first time this season that the Leafs won both games on consecutive nights.

“I really can’t take too much away (from this game),” Keefe said. “I thought that line from Kampf, (Pierre) Engvall and (Alex) Kerfoot was our best by a mile. Other than that, I didn’t really like it. “

Both teams played the second of consecutive games. The Sabers beat Edmonton 3-2 on Friday and the Leafs defeated Calgary 2-1 in overtime. It was the Leafs’ third series of consecutive games. Keefe was asked if maybe his team was tired.

“Everyone in the NHL plays a lot of hockey,” he said. “(You) can’t hang your hat on that. And this Buffalo team played last night too. I will not cut this much more than I have already done. Our boys fought to the end. We had some of our best late-game turns and got two points without having to play overtime. That is positive for us. But yeah, let’s get on with this one. “

Family matter: Woll’s first victory came with the assistance of his family. His father Bob, his mother Shelley, his sister Emma and his brother Michael arrived in time to catch the highly respected goalkeeper. “I’ll give the game disc to my mom,” Woll said. “He likes to collect special things from my career.”

The Leafs actually told Woll midweek that it was starting, so the family could make plans to fly in from St. Louis.

“It’s obviously a big deal for him personally, you’re making your first NHL start,” Keefe said. “But we don’t see it as more than a start and a great opportunity for him to gain valuable experience and an opportunity for him to know that the organization believes in him. That could be of great help for a young player ”.

So it wasn’t so much a win or a loss, but more of Woll’s experience, with the Leafs only because of a groin injury to Petr Mrázek. Woll was drafted in 2016, the same year the Leafs drafted Auston Matthews, which coincided with the Buffalo celebration. The two knew each other from the US National Development Program.

Woll’s path to the NHL has been much slower. It is usually for goalkeepers. He played three years at Boston College before joining the Marlies in 2019-20, then was coached by Keefe. He also represented the United States twice at the junior world championships.

“We’ve had a good streak of games for Jack (Campbell) that has given Joe time to be with our team and the league for a while,” Keefe said. “We just think the time is right to give him a chance, given the opportunity that has come with Mrázek’s injury. Sometimes with young players, you need to give them some opportunities to show what they can do.

Empty seats: Attendance was announced at 7,992. It was a jarring site to see the KeyBank Center with thousands of empty seats. A Leafs-Sabers game is usually full, half and half, with Leafs and Sabers fans and chants in competition. “Let’s Go Buffalo” easily beat “Go Leafs Go” in decibels on Saturday. Border crossing rules, specifically for Canadians returning to Canada when the game ended, contributed to poor attendance. Required COVID tests cost up to $ 200.

“It wasn’t a complete building, but I thought there was good energy as the game recovered,” Tavares said. “It went back and forth until the end. It is always a good rivalry. I’m sure it will continue like this.

But the Sabers have been struggling with assist through it all, a team that just traded in their star, Jack Eichel, and appears to be headed for another rebuild. The Sabers last made the playoffs in 2010-11, and are currently suffering from the longest postseason drought in the NHL.

Lucky bounces: The Leafs were very lucky in some of their goals. Kampf’s goal, for example, took a strange path. His pass swung off the skid of Buffalo’s John Hayden, then under a sprawling Robert Hagg, surprising goalie Aaron Dell for what was a bit of a landslide goal. It was Kampf’s second of the year. He only had one final season in Chicago.

Kaše, skating on the top line with Matthews and William Nylander, scored on what would be a good shot to the wrist, but came after fanning himself on his initial attempt. Regardless, it was his third goal in three nights.

Bunting scored because the puck received a strange rebound, knocking Buffalo goalie Aaron Dell out of position. Bunting essentially had an empty net.

Tavares’ goal was more traditional, a detour in the power game.

Then the Rielly winner had a fun rebound. His shot hit the crossbar, fell forward into the crease, and then, with a mind of his own, reentered the net.

“I didn’t think it was that fun,” Rielly said. “Just a bit of good luck, so I’ll take it.”

And finally get your first of the season? “I feel like in the beginning there were a lot of opportunities, a couple of posts and stuff. But it was definitely about time. “

New style: With Woll on the net and each line with a new look, the game had a training ground feel. And why not? The Leafs had little to lose. They haven’t done well, this year or historically, in the second game played in back-to-back situations. And with the team struggling to score lately (six goals in the last three games), Keefe had a chance to turn things around a bit, maybe try some new things.

The biggest surprise was seeing Kaše on the top line with Matthews and Nylander. The team has talked about unleashing its offensive potential since signing him in the summer. He scored 20 goals in 2017-18, but was injured in each season that followed. He played only six games in 2019-20, three games in 2020-21. But he has played all 16 games for the Leafs, mostly in a defensive role. But it was worth seeing what he can do offensively.

“I didn’t play a lot (the last two seasons), so the start of the season was a bit slower for me,” Kaše said. “If you don’t play for a while and come back, that’s it. It’s the moment. The speed of the game. Everything.

“But the last seven games, I feel like I’m doing a better job, and I’m in the game the way I should be. So I think I’m doing better. “

Load management: Keefe eliminated rookie Rasmus Sandin and veteran Wayne Simmonds, using a “load handling” argument for both. “In both cases, it’s an opportunity to manage your season and manage your minutes,” Keefe said. “In Rasmus’s case, he played a lot when he was young and had some bumps and bruises along the way.

For Simmonds, it’s her first healthy scratch as a Leaf. “In Wayne’s case, he’s a guy whose role has shrunk a little bit earlier this season. I contacted Wayne. I want to use the depth we have left. When we have players who can help us, we want to use that in the back-to-back situation. “


The conversations are the opinions of our readers and are subject to the Code of conduct. The Star does not endorse these views.

Leave a Comment