TORONTO – The Toronto Maple Leafs had no difficulty creating scoring chances Friday.
The trouble was, Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller already looks to be in top form.
Miller stopped 33 shots and Jason Pominville scored on the power play at 14:42 of the third period as the Sabres won their third straight pre-season game, 2-1 over the Maple Leafs.
“Miller made some big saves for them. He’s a good goaltender, you’ve got to get traffic in front of him and get him moving and he made some key saves,” Leafs defenceman John-Michael Liles said. “Obviously you have to focus on him each and every game but we’ll continue to try to do those things and try to get traffic in front of him.”
The Leafs killed off four penalties in a row before Pominville finally struck for the Sabres with the man advantage to break a 1-1 tie.
With Cody Franson in the box for holding, the puck got caught in some traffic in front. Pominville was in the right place to snap in his second of the pre-season past Leafs goalie James Reimer.
Apart from the two goals, Reimer was solid in making 31 saves. He had to be up to the challenge early, as Buffalo came out the stronger of the two teams.
“All I had to do was stand on the top of my crease and be big and they were forcing them to take shots on the outside and they were hitting me in the chest,” Reimer said. “I felt really good but it’s a credit to the way our team played.”
With both sides featuring almost full-strength squads, Buffalo’s early pressure was ultimately rewarded with the opening goal at 7:15 of the first
Buffalo’s Matt Ellis fed rookie Corey Tropp off a Leafs turnover and he beat Reimer low for a 1-0 lead.
Despite getting off to a slow start, Toronto pressed late in the first. With 14 minutes gone, Nazem Kadri had a few cracks at a loose puck at the side of the net but Miller stacked the pads to keep the Leafs off the scoreboard.
Toronto sniper Phil Kessel had a few chances to even the score in the opening minutes of the second, but Miller stopped everything that came his way.
“Any time I can look across the ice and see a world class goalie like Miller, it does inspire you to give that little extra jump to see if you could beat them,” Reimer said.
Despite being outshot 15-4 in the second period, the Sabres nearly doubled their lead six minutes into the period. On a rare foray into the Leafs zone, T.J. Brennan rang a shot off the crossbar that beat Reimer cleanly.
The play leading up to Toronto’s equalizer was started and finished by Kessel. Kessel started the play by passing to Liles, who brought the puck right in front of the net before being checked. The loose puck fell to Kessel, who banged it in at 8:32 of the second.
“In the second period, we got off to a good start. There was some good forechecking and we controlled the play for most of the period,” Leafs head coach Ron Wilson said.
Miller saved the game for the Sabres just seconds after his team had taken the lead. Having played himself out of position, Miller sprawled back and get his glove to a goal-bound shot off the stick of Joffrey Lupul.
“Obviously we would have liked to get the big goal at the end but, especially in the second period I thought we started looking pretty good on the cycle,” Lupul said. “We made some good plays so we’re still a work in progress.”