BUFFALO, N.Y. – Tyler Bozak had some good and some bad, but most importantly he was on the ice in a game for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Bozak had a goal, two assists and a costly turnover in his pre-season debut as the Leafs beat the Buffalo Sabres 6-4 Friday night at First Niagara Center. The first-line centre played 18:23 and showed no ill effects from a lower-body injury that forced him to miss the start of training camp.
“It was both ways, I guess: Good at times and bad at times,” Bozak said of his game. “I obviously hadn’t played a scrimmage or a game since last year, so it was nice to get out there. Things went well right off the bat, which helped my confidence. Obviously a couple mistakes and a four-minute shift, so kind of got everything out there today.”
While Bozak and right-winger David Clarkson got on the ice in exhibition action for the first time, defenceman Henrik Tallinder left the game with a dislocated left shoulder. Coach Randy Carlyle didn’t know how long Tallinder—who’s in training camp on a professional tryout—might be out.
“A lot of people that play this game have history that if it pops out they pop it back in and it settles down,” Carlyle said.
Bozak and Clarkson were injured as part of informal pre-training camp workouts. The two forwards began practising with the Leafs earlier this week before finally getting into a game in Buffalo.
Bozak set up goals by Roman Polak and captain Dion Phaneuf and scored his own on a pretty give-and-go with winger Josh Leivo. The top line of Leivo, Bozak and Joffrey Lupul got caught in their own end for a shift of almost three minutes.
“Got tired after that long shift,” Bozak said. “You can do whatever you can, but once you get in a game it’s completely different. Getting back into game shape will be something that I got to do the next couple games, but overall felt pretty good.”
Clarkson scored on a tip in front, and Leo Komarov and Leivo each had a goal for the Leafs on a night Sabres goaltender Michal Neuvirth struggled. Clarkson’s right eye was swollen shut after the game following a third-period fight with Cody McCormick.
Carlyle said Clarkson did not return after that fight for precautionary reasons and did not sound concerned about his long-term health.
Phaneuf fought Drew Stafford in the first period. He had an ice pack on his right hand after, however the defenceman said his hand was fine.
In his first full game of the pre-season, goaltender James Reimer allowed two goals to Chris Stewart and one each to Jake McCabe and McCormick. Reimer finished with 32 saves.
As Toronto looks for depth on the blue-line, Tallinder’s chances of making the team were dealt a serious blow when he went shoulder-first into the boards on a hit from former Sabres teammate Mike Weber, who also landed on top of him. He did not return.
If the 35-year-old Tallinder misses any significant time and can’t earn a roster spot, Toronto would likely look to someone like Stuart Percy or Korbinian Holzer to be the seventh defenceman. The uncertain status of right-handed Stephane Robidas (broken leg in last year’s playoffs) could also throw off the Leafs’ plans.
Percy was particularly good Friday night, and the 2011 first-round pick could be in line to earn a job. Carlyle said the 21-year-old looks like a different, stronger player than a year ago.
“You can tell he’s put some time and effort in in changing his body makeup and strength factor,” Carlyle said. “I still think that, the speed of the game and his foot speed is going to be something he’s going to have to continue to improve on, but you can’t take away his puck moving ability and his hockey sense.”
Polak, a stay-at-home defenceman the Leafs got from the St. Louis Blues, finished with a goal and two assists.
“It’s second game in Toronto, I just want to show myself, what I can do, too and just kind of represent my name,” Polak said.
Leivo also had a three-point night and earned praise from Carlyle for being strong around the puck and on the walls and for having a knack for scoring.
“He did a lot of good things,” Carlyle said. “Those are instances when he shows his skill and shows his strength along the wall with the puck. If he can continue to do that he’s going to make our decisions that much more difficult.”
Notes—The Leafs put forwards Trevor Smith and Spencer Abbott and defenceman Kevin Marshall on waivers on Friday with the intention of sending them to camp with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies. … Frederik Gauthier hasn’t played this pre-season because of a cracked rib, according to Carlyle. Gauthier was the Leafs’ first-round pick in 2013. … With the win, the Leafs improved to 3-1-1 in exhibition action. They host the Sabres at Air Canada Centre on Sunday.