The Leafs have starved off ridiculous rumors and marched their way to the record books by dominating the Sabres to a 4-0 win. When there were talks of a line change that separated JVR and Bozak from Kessel, many thought that it would not work. So far, it has.

What happened?

The Leafs entered this game following a dismal performance against the Bruins and surrounding countless rumors of the immediate future of the Leafs. The lines were shuffled, compete level was questioned, and Carlyle was thought to be fired. Obviously, there was loads of pressure on the Buds to break through and win, even if their opponent was Buffalo.

In the first, the Leafs dominated in terms of SOG, clearly proving that they were the better team. Two power-plays really helped the cause as they outshot the Sabres 17-4 by periods end. Although that was suprising, the first period was unmemorable to say the least. This was true for most of the second period, where the Leafs once again outshot and outplayed Buffalo (12-4), though it did not result in any goals scored.

That all changed late in the second period, starting with Phaneuf suffering an apparent injury after Kadri accidentally ran into him (who in turn was collided by Girgenson moments before. He left the ice and did not play the rest of the period, but he did return in the third. Then, with the second period drawing to a close, Kessel made a bullet pass to Bozak who then scored his Winter Classic goal to break the ice and give the Leafs a 1-0 lead.

The third period was where the Leafs really took off. It started with Kessel scoring a lucky bounce that went in off of Neuvirth legs without realizing it. The 2-0 lead got extended exactly one minute later when JVR tipped in a nice pass from Rielly on the red line. Following that was tons of shots on goal and hammering the Sabres in their own end (at one point, they spent over 3 minutes in one play which ended with Kessels goal). 

Gardiner finished up the scoring with a highlight real goal by showing patience and deaking around the defense for his first goal of the season. The Sabres only got 2 shots in the third and it resulted in the easiest shutout of Bernier's career. That also set a record for the fewest shots against in a game (dating back to 1955). That goal by Gardiner kind of reminded me of one he scored in his rookie season. See if you can spot the similarities.

Why win?

1) 37-10. Those were the total shots on goal by games end. The Leafs absolutely dominated the Sabres in every way possible: compete, eagerness, finesse, and shots on goal. That, as mentioned before, set a record for the least shots against in a Leaf game ever. Which in turn, is Bernier's easiest shutout of his NHL career. It is fairly obvious to see just how dominate the Leafs really were, but that stat alone proves how lopsided the game truly was. 

2) Kessel is the key to success. Seems as though the Leafs can find a win only when Kessel finds the back of the net. As good as it is for him to be an offensive leader, but there comes a time where this team must realize that they cannot rely on Kessel to win the hockey game all season long. I will let this slide early on, but they need to find a way to win without his help soon. It's good now, but it may haunt them later.

3) Carlyle is a genius.  Yes, I just said that with a straight face, but Carlyle did a great job in handling the lines tonight. All four forward lines got fair amounts of ice time, Rielly played more than Phaneuf, and they seemed to be playing the type of hockey that Carlyle wants to see. Although this is the Sabres they were playing against, this is the team that the Leafs need to be every single night because it is successful. Tonight's performance should put the Carlyle gonzo rumors to rest for now. Good on you Randy.

Prediction Results

 Here's what I predicted earlier today:
"For tonight's game, on the other hand, I suspect that the two teams are going to have an offensive gong show. This will drive both coaches nuts, but there will be a fight at some point. Also, expect the Leafs to have a better game on the power play."
The Leafs did provide an offensive gong show, it it certainly drove Sabres coach Ted Nolan nuts all night long. There was a fight between Phaneuf and Cody McCormick midway through the third, and the Leafs certainly played well on the power-play (Bozak scored the lone PPG of the night). I guessed right on this one.

Prediction Score


Who's next?

The Leafs will take a few days off as they prepare for their second back-to-back games of the season. The first game will be in Columbus against the Blue Jackets, and the second will be on Saturday in Toronto against the Blackhawks. See you then!



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