Dec 27, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs left wing Joffrey Lupul (19) beats Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller (30) in the shootout at Air Canada Centre. The Maple Leafs beat the Sabres 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Rich's Take: Breaking Down the Break Downs in Buffalo's 4-3 Shootout Loss to Toronto

Balls.

Dec 27, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Cody Franson (4) hits Buffalo Sabres right wing Matt D

That pretty much sums up my feelings on the Buffalo Sabres’ 4-3 shootout loss to the much-despised Toronto Maple Leafs.  Am I upset because I felt the Sabres should have won the game?  Hell no; the Sabres probably should have lost by three tonight.  Am I upset because I thought the Leafs played the gutless brand of hockey I have seen from them a few times this year?   Aside from Matt Moulson being cross-checked face first into the net, no – the game was hard-fought, but the teams hardly fought.

So why I am upset?  Simply because my kid was practically jumping out of his skin after seeing Buffalo score not once, but twice in the first period . . . only to get to bed with the Leafs up 3-2 after two periods.  Poor little man – he deserves better.  He’s paying for the sins of his father at this point.

Anyway: as most of you probably know by now, the Sabres fell 4-3 in a shootout.  Buffalo started the game sloppy, then cranked things up a notch by scoring two goals within 52 seconds of one another.  Matt Moulson scored the first one for Buffalo by shoving a rebound between Jonathan Bernier‘s pads after Zemgus Girgensons drove to the net.  This goal was not surprising – it’s Moulson’s eighth agaist the Leafs in his last ten games.

The goal that provided the “Holy expletive!” moment of the night – nay, the season so far – came when John Scott, playing in his 200th game, snapped a shot past Bernier after scooping up a juicy rebound following Matt Ellis‘ shot.  Who says Scott is useless now, Leafs fans?

Well, me, for starters.  But it was a nice moment, nevertheless.  Buffalo outshot their hosts 15-10 in the first period, which led many of us to believe that the Sabres were going to put a full 60 minutes together tonight, given the fact that the first period is usually the 20 minutes of the game that Buffalo tends to gift its opponents.

Then the second period started, and reality reasserted itself.  See, as badly as the Leafs have been struggling as of late, they still have these things called “speed” and “talent” at various positions.  Fans of hockey will tell you that these two things are often enough to win games – it’s true!   The Buffalo Sabres found this out the hard way, as they were absolutely overwhelmed by the Leafs in the second, getting outshot 17-5 and giving up three goals.  The Leafs used their speed to get down ice and turn the corners on Buffalo’s defenders, as well as to get to loose pucks and keep up the offensive pressure in front of Ryan Miller.  There were too many extended periods of time in which the Sabres were hemmed in at their own end, and bad things, such as Jake Gardiner‘s slap shot, which opened the scoring for Toronto, usually happen as a result.  At some point, the Sabres are going to have to ask the NHL if they can charge their opponents rent, since other teams are living in Buffalo’s end of the ice.

The third period saw a slightly better effort from the Sabres, but I still never felt like they were going to score again.  The fact that they proved me wrong is nice – thank you, Matt Moulson and Steve Ott, for working hard in front of Bernier to tie this game up! – but the Sabres really missed a chance to kick the Leafs when they were down, and simply let Toronto yank this game right out of their hands.  Had it not been for Ryan Miller, who made 39 saves on the night including a series in overtime in which he first blocked a wrap-around attempt by James van Riemsdyk and then got a blocker on a point-blank shot by someone wearing blue (can’t remember who), Buffalo doesn’t make it into overtime, and probably doesn’t even score that third goal, as the fight would have been completely knocked out of them.

But you know what?  it’s okay – seriously.  Earlier this year, I was angry when I watched the Sabres, because they didn’t seem to be skating hard, or really giving two craps how badly they looked out on the ice.  I was so mad that I did something I had never done before: I wrote a piece in which I argued that Buffalo had to fire Ron Rolston.  Some people thought it was too early to call for that, but I just didn’t like the effort, the attitude, and frankly the hockey intelligence that I feel a team absolutely needs to have in the NHL, regardless of what their talent level is.  Since Ted Nolan has taken over, the Sbares at least show me effort, heart, and a much better understanding of what the situation is and where they need to be.  They don’t always execute properly, and they are still rough around the edges (Zemgus Girgensons flub in the final fame of the shootout being exhibit A), but I can honestly say that I enjoy watching them now and have hope that next year they will be fighting for a playoff spot.  (Notice I didn’t say the Stanley Cup; that would just be idiotic!)

And at the very least, tonight I can say, “Congratulations, Toronto!  You’re only the second team in the NHL to allow a goal by John Scott!”

Sleep on that, Leafs fans!

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