Centre Jochen Hecht, one of the team’s few healthy veterans, had two goals and an assist and goaltender Ryan Miller made 27 saves as the Sabres cruised to an easy 6-1 victory Tuesday night. Toronto was playing its second game in two days – and third in four days – and was coming off a three-game road trip.
“We were just dragging out butts all over the ice,” Maple Leafs head coach Paul Maurice said. “That’s the bottom line. We were a fatigued hockey team tonight. No doubt about that.”
While the Leafs were tired, the Sabres were hurting. Still, they found more than enough offence in their patchwork squad that was missing eight players with various injuries .Buffalo dressed four rookies who each had less than 10 games of NHL experience.
“I was really impressed with the way we skated,” Miller said. “It was real fun to watch the boys ramp it up out there, especially in the second and third periods.”
Rookie left-wing Clarke MacArthur had a goal and two assists in only his seventh NHL game, while forwards Jason Pominville, Derek Roy and Drew Stafford – another freshman, playing just his 24th NHL contest – also scored for Buffalo.
“There’s some guys in our dressing room who have really stepped up their play,” Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff said.
Buffalo escaped early penalty trouble to take a 1-0 lead after 20 minutes on Pominville’s 26th goal of the season.
“That’s the frustrating part,” said Leafs defenceman Bryan McCabe, who finished a team-worst minus-3 and was booed in the second half of the game. “They had a lot of guys out. It should’ve been a night where we could dominate, but it wasn’t. They outworked us, got some bounces, and we couldn’t score.”
The Sabres could score, and then some. Despite being outshot 24-11 after two periods, they held a commanding 4-1 lead and carried the play.
“These guys from the Rochester (AHL) are playing a lot of minutes and they’re playing really good for us,” Hecht said.
“They play physical and they also do whatever you want them to do.”
Alexei Ponikarovsky had the lone goal for the Maple Leafs; a late second-period goal that drew the home side to within 3-1 and lifted the 19,588 fans at Air Canada Centre to their feet. But the joy was short-lived as the Sabres closed out the middle period with a late, back-breaking goal by Hecht.
“You give (the Sabres) an inch and they’ll take a mile,” said Leafs centre John Pohl, who set up Ponikarovsky.
“When they’re clicking on all cylinders the way they were tonight, they’re a tough team to play against.”
And they got even tougher when Hecht scored again at 5:21 of the third period to put the Sabres up by four goals and effectively end the Leafs’ chances of coming back.
Toronto (30-25-9) fell to 12-14-5 at home this season.
Leafs goalie Andrew Raycroft surrendered four goals on 11 shots before being pulled after two periods in favour of backup Jean-Sebastien Aubin. It was the third time in five games that Raycroft, who has started 25 consecutive contests, has been yanked by Maurice.
“I think we were more frustrated as the game went on,” Raycroft said. “And we were tired. We’ve played a lot of hockey, a lot of meaningful hockey. And when people get down on you a little bitayou try too much, and I think that was the case tonight.”
Said Maurice of his No. 1 goalie: “He’s been solid for us. I’m not going to say he was bad in that game, but the numbers on the board say he was.”
Among the missing for the Sabres was leading scorer Daniel Briere, a late scratch after coming down with the flu. Forwards Chris Drury (head), Maxim Afinogenov (wrist), Ales Kotalik (knee) and Paul Gaustad (ankle) and top defenceman Jaroslav Spacek (broken hand) also all sat out.
The Sabres were also missing injury-plagued centre Tim Connolly, who had a breakout season last year but sustained a concussion in the playoffs and hasn’t been back on the ice since.
Notes: Buffalo was busier than Toronto at the trade deadline, taking part in four deals to only one by the Leafs. The Sabres’ biggest move was obtaining centre Dainius Zubrus, 28 – and defenceman Timo Helbling, 25 – from the Washington Capitals in exchange for centre Jiri Novotny,
24, and Buffalo’s first round pick in the 2007 NHL entry draft. The Sabres also traded backup goalie Martin Biron to Philadelphia for a second round draft pick in June; Buffalo picked up Ty Conklin from Columbus for a fifth-rounder to back up Miller. Finally, the Sabres added depth defenceman Mikko Lehtonen from Nashville in exchange for a 2007 fourth-round pick. . . . The Leafs, meanwhile, obtained faceoff specialist Yanic Perreault, 35, from Phoenix, as well as a fifth-round pick in 2008, for rookie defenceman Brendan Bell and a 2008 second-rounder. It’s Perreault’s third stint as a Maple Leaf; Toronto drafted him 47th overall in 1991.