TORONTO – As the Toronto Maple Leafs continue to fritter away valuable points, coach Ron Wilson is wondering what has happened to his top line.
Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak and Kris Versteeg were held off the scoresheet during a 3-2 shootout loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday. They’ve accounted for just two goals over the last five games—all losses—as the Leafs continue to limp along after a hot start.
“They’re not producing any offence and in fact their effort is a little off,” Wilson said of his top trio. “They don’t get any offence because they’re basically not working hard enough defensively. …
“They haven’t scored in like five games.”
The team’s second unit continues to be its best as Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin both scored in regulation. The third member of that line, Clarke MacArthur, also had a number of good chances against his former team and seemed to take the loss particularly hard.
“We just didn’t finish,” said MacArthur. “I had two or three golden opportunities tonight. That one stings.”
The win provided some relief for a Buffalo team that was approaching a crisis situation. The players mobbed rookie Tyler Ennis after he beat J.S. Giguere with a nice deke in the fifth round of the shootout, clinching their first win in six games.
That came after Buffalo’s Jochen Hecht had forced overtime by scoring with 13.1 seconds remaining in regulation while goalie Jhonas Enroth was pulled for an extra attacker.
“Obviously, we were overdue,” said Sabres coach Lindy Ruff. “It’s a pretty excited group to get the win.”
The Northeast Division rivals are already facing an uphill climb towards the playoffs. The Maple Leafs (5-5-3) sit three points ahead of Buffalo (4-9-2), with two games in hand, but both are currently outside of the top eight in the Eastern Conference.
Toronto has gone 1-5-3 over its last nine games as the team’s hot start has completely disappeared in the rear-view mirror.
“We’re a young team and we’re going to have to learn,” said Giguere, who made 29 saves. “You don’t go from 29th place in the league (last season) to a playoff spot right away. You need to learn before you get to that point.”
Enroth, a 22-year-old Swede, performed well in just his third career NHL start. He stopped 23 shots in regulation in overtime before turning away four of five attempts in the shootout.
“I know what I can do and I never doubted myself,” he said.
Derek Roy, with his team-leading seventh, had the other goal in regulation for Buffalo.
Dating back to last season, Grabovski had gone 20 games without scoring for the Maple Leafs. He ended the drought with a seeing-eye wrist shot from the point that sailed past Enroth with 16.6 seconds to play in the first period.
Kulemin made it 2-0 late in the second period. Shortly after MacArthur fired wide, he cycled in front and beat the Sabres goalie to the blocker side.
Meanwhile, Kessel’s unit was nowhere to be found.
“I had one line producing offence and that was it,” said Wilson. “We need more contributions from other people in a game like this, when you’ve got a team down on the mat. We didn’t finish them off and we should have.”
Roy started the comeback by scoring with just over a minute to play in the second period before Hecht tied it late. The puck bounced off a couple players before it landed on his stick.
It marked the second straight game the Maple Leafs blew a one-goal lead in the final period and lost in a shootout.
“It’s 13 seconds left, you’ve got to (get rid of) the puck and not let it happen,” said veteran Leafs defenceman Tomas Kaberle. “We had the lead in Washington (on Wednesday) and today as well, all game pretty much. It’s tough to swallow.
“That’s two extra points and you might need them towards the end of the season.”
Notes:Defenceman Korbinian Holzer made his NHL debut for Toronto, replacing Carl Gunnarsson in the lineup … John Mitchell played consecutive games for the first time all season. The Leafs centre has been a healthy scratch nine times … Ruff coached his 999th career game for Buffalo … Ryan Miller sat out a fourth straight game for the Sabres with a knee injury … Announced attendancewas 19,329.