Daylight Saving Time doesn’t take effect until next month.
Otherwise the Leafs might have been forgiven for appearing to show up, at least mentally, an hour late for Saturday’s game – a 3-1 defeat to the Buffalo Sabres on home ice.
Hyperbole aside, Toronto’s play was atrocious over the first twenty minutes of the game. The Sabres vaulted to a three-goal lead by the first intermission, a deficit that was too large to overcome despite the home team’s best efforts the rest of the way.
Coach Mike Babcock didn’t mince words. “Disappointed is what you should be because we had the opportunity to get prepared and be prepared, we knew it was an important game, and we weren’t ready to play any way you look at it,” he said. “That’s on me, that’s on the players.”
Evander Kane opened the scoring for Buffalo 4 minutes, 13 seconds into the game after Jack Eichel won a faceoff cleanly versus Auston Matthews in the Toronto zone. Less than a minute later, with Jake Gardiner in the penalty box for hooking, Sam Reinhart beat Frederik Andersen for a power play goal, converting a 2-on-1 pass from Kyle Okposo after getting behind the Leafs’ defenders.
Kane fired home his second of the game with 1:58 left in the opening frame as Jack Eichel registered his third assist of the period.
In Jekyll and Hyde fashion, the Leafs came out blazing over the next 40 minutes, and Mitch Marner once again displayed his brilliance. After drawing a tripping penalty on Josh Georges, Marner sped down the right wing and behind the goal, tossing the puck in front where it was twice deflected for a wraparound goal. The tally gave Marner 47 points to lead the Leafs.
Also, Nikita Zaitsev earned the second assist on the play, giving the Leafs 208 points scored by rookies this season. The mark tied a franchise record in that category in just the team’s 54th game of the year. A first-year player has earned a point on each of the Leafs’ last 22 goals.
Toronto pressed for the equalizer, outshooting their opponents 18-4 in the final period, but were denied by netminder Robin Lehner.
“I think we played a strong last 40 minutes, 35 minutes, whatever you want to call it, but that’s not good enough in this league,” defenceman Morgan Rielly said. “You’ve got to come out and play a full 60 and we weren’t able to do that tonight. Moving forward we’ve got to prepare better and make sure we’re ready to go when the puck drops.”