TORONTO – Fans as the Air Canada Centre could be forgiven for catching a few winks Thursday night.
The 19,176 fans in attendance were treated to one of the more uninspiring home efforts of the season, as the Leafs dozed their way to a 4-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres. “I don’t know, maybe both teams had a hangover,” Toronto coach Ron Wilson mused after the game.
Wilson rightly accused both teams of lacking energy, but the Sabres, while far from dazzling, managed to squeak out enough offence – keyed by three second-period goals – and play a disciplined road game to shut down their opponents.
At his post-game news conference, Wilson was asked what he could have done as a coach to spark his sluggish squad.
“Maybe fight the other coach? I think that’s about the only thing,” Wilson joked, before offering a more serious appraisal.
“If I had to do it again, I’d play the fourth line more, because they were better prepared than our other lines. Particularly, our top line wasn’t very good tonight and it just had a trickle-down effect.”
Curtis Joseph, tagged with the loss after making his second consecutive start in the Maple Leafs net, had an ice-level view of the inaction and agreed with his coach’s overall assessment.
“It wasn’t one of those nights where we had a lot of pizzazz or energy,” said the 41-year-old netminder, who earned his 450th victory on Tuesday night in a far more exciting contest against the Atlanta Thrashers. “The last game was so entertaining, and this one didn’t seem very entertaining at all.
“We just couldn’t get it going.”
Toronto’s Niklas Hagman, who was stopped by Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller on a first-period penalty shot, attributed his team’s inability to find the ignition switch to a lack of work ethic.
“We just didn’t battle hard enough,” said Hagman. “We lost a lot of one-on-one battles, and it’s those little things that we’ve got to do right if we want to win.”
With neither team displaying much fighting spirit, however, the game was still very much in doubt until Buffalo’s second-period outburst.
“I think if we’d have found a way to break the ice in the first period with some of the chances we had on the power play, and obviously the chance leading up to the penalty shot and the penalty shot, it might’ve been a different outcome,” said Wilson.