TORONTO, Cananda – Ryan Miller regained his mastery of the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday night.
Miller stopped 34 shots to lead the Buffalo Sabres to a 2-1 victory and spoil Toronto’s home opener. It was Miller’s 28th career win over the Leafs, the most the Sabres netminder has against any NHL team.
Miller came into the contest with a 2.44 goals-against average and .922 save percentage versus Toronto (1-1-0), but the Leafs won the season series last year 3-2-1 and were a stellar 3-0-0 versus the Sabres at Air Canada Centre.
“They’ve been kicking my ass the last two years a little bit so it’s time to get back at them,” Miller said. “We’re in one of the biggest cities for hockey, it’s great to come and play in front of these fans.
“It’s a big compliment to Buffalo that we’ve got great fans and in the area. I feel like this is the whole hockey area—a big hotbed—so we come and just try to enjoy yourself and have some fun and it’s fun to win here.”
Miller was solid for Buffalo (2-0-0) after registering a 27-save performance in the Sabres’ 5-2 season-opening home win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday night. The veteran netminder was a big reason while the ACC gathering of 19,475 spent much of the contest sitting on its hands.
But Nazem Kadri got the home crowd buzzing when he beat Miller on the power play with 1:42 remaining, his second goal of the season. Toronto’s Joffrey Lupul appeared to tie it 25 seconds later with goalie Ben Scrivens on the bench but the goal was disallowed.
With Scrivens back on the bench and Toronto on a late power play, Kadri was all alone to the side of Miller but couldn’t get his stick on the bouncing puck in the dying seconds to force overtime.
“He (Miller) is a very good goalie, one of the top goalies in the league for a reason,” said Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf, who blasted a shot off the post in the first. “You have to have traffic on him and we did but he made some real good saves.
“You have to give him credit, he made some big saves for them. We got traffic in the tough areas but at the end of the day we just didn’t execute.”
Cody Hodgson, who had one of Buffalo’s goals, credited Miller for the victory.
“He was pretty amazing back there,” Hodgson said. “We were just able to pull it out.
“It wasn’t the prettiest but we’ll take it.”
Jason Pominville had the other goal for Buffalo, which was outshot 35-20 in the first of four meetings this year with Toronto. The Leafs opened their season Saturday night with a 2-1 road win over Montreal.
The game was the 95th home opener in Leafs’ history (44-33-15-3). Toronto opened its home schedule against Buffalo for the sixth time (2-3-1-0).
Toronto outshot Buffalo 13-5 in the first but it was the Sabres who had the period’s lone goal as Hodgson opened the scoring at 8:51, deflecting Christian Ehrhoff’s point shot past Scrivens for his second goal of the season. The Leafs had a glorious chance to tie it when the visitors took three straight minor penalties—giving the home team an extended two-man advantage—but the closest they came to scoring was Phaneuf’s slapshot going off the post.
Toronto finished the game with one power-play goal in seven attempts and was 0 for 2 with a two-man advantage.
“I didn’t think there was any lack of effort with our group,” Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said. “I thought we were out of sorts in the first period and it showed in the execution of our power play.
“When you have an extended, almost a full two-minute five on three, you’re expected to provide some offence, you’ve got to score. And I think that came back to haunt us later in the game. We had our fair share of chances but we just didn’t execute to the highest level that was required to win the hockey game.”
Pominville put Buffalo ahead 2-0 at 4:51 of the second with his first goal of the season. The Sabres’ captain—who had three assists Sunday night against Philadelphia—took a nice setup pass from Thomas Vanek and fired a wrist shot through Scrivens’ legs.
The assist was Vanek’s sixth point of the season after registering two goals and three assists against Philadelphia.
NOTES—Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield participated in the ceremonial opening faceoff from space . . . The Leafs opened the season with the NHL’s second-youngest roster with an average age of 27.1 years. Only Columbus (26.9 years) is younger . . . Saturday’s road win in Montreal marked the third straight season Toronto opened the campaign on a winning note . . . Toronto’s next game is Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.