BUFFALO — Hope that the Maple Leafs have the ability to move on and forget.
With a double dose of Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins on the docket, the Leafs have no choice but to leave a pitiful effort on Sunday night on the shores of Lake Erie.
The Leafs had nothing going at KeyBank Center, losing 5-2 to a Buffalo Sabres team that won’t get a sniff of the playoffs this spring.
Goaltender Frederik Andersen did what he could after watching Jack Campbell help beat the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night, but often was left on his own.
So what if the Leafs played the night before? Their record in the second game of back-to-back sets dropped to 2-7-3, and there was no excuse for the disorganization in the defensive zone through much of the evening.
A disconnect between the forwards and the defencemen has been an issue for a few games. It’s on coach Sheldon Keefe to get it cleaned up, never mind the challenge that Crosby and Co. will pose when the Leafs visit Pittsburgh on Tuesday, followed by a rematch in Toronto on Thursday.
The Leafs had some energy to start the third period, and tied the game 2-2 when Zach Hyman tipped a Jake Muzzin shot past Buffalo goalie Carter Hutton at 2:11.
The Sabres ensured the Leafs’ enthusiasm was short-lived as they reeled off three goals in a span of one minute 31 seconds. A couple of Hutton saves, on John Tavares and Alex Kerfoot, helped.
Muzzin was serving a tripping minor when Jack Eichel fired a shot past Andersen at 6:06; at 6:55, Kyle Okposo chipped the puck past Rasmus Sandin at the sideboards and then skated to the net, flipping it over Andersen’s right shoulder.
The onslaught ended at 7:37 when Jimmy Vesey, at the edge of the crease, popped the puck into an open net.
A bright note for the Leafs was the first National Hockey League goal by winger Egor Korshkov, coming in his NHL debut.
After being recalled from the Toronto Marlies earlier in the day, Korshkov one-timing a pass from Jason Spezza past Hutton at 11:31 of the second period. Kyle Clifford also had an assist on the goal, his first point with the Leafs in six games after being acquired with Campbell from the Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 5.
The Leafs also recalled forward Mason Marchment, and the 24-year-old played in his fourth NHL game.
Sitting out were forwards Frederik Gauthier and Dmytro Timashov.
Already without the injured Morgan Rielly and Cody Ceci, the Leafs had a scare when Sandin left the game during the first period after apparently taking a shot off his foot. Sandin did not come out to start the second but eventually returned in the middle period.
The Leafs remain four points up on the Florida Panthers for third place in the Atlantic Division. The Panthers have two games in hand.
Buffalo carried a 2-1 lead into the second intermission and outshot the Leafs 28-12 through 40 minutes. Johan Larsson scored on a rebound off the end boards at 1:32 of the second, and at 9:42, Conor Sheary made it 2-0 when he tipped a Colin Miller shot past Andersen. Not long before the Sheary goal, Hutton made a large save on a Matthews blast … The Sabres figured they might have had a 1-0 lead at 17:50 of the first when Vesey’s attempt on a wraparound was stopped by Andersen on the goal line. After a lengthy review, the original call — that the puck did not completely cross the goal line — stood … The first period ended 16-6 in shots on goal in favour of the Sabres. The Leafs were around the net more than they put on net, and their best scoring chance came when Pierre Engvall sent Kasperi Kapanen in on a breakaway. Kapanen shot high and wide … Andersen drew “Freddy! Freddy!” chants when he stopped Victor Olofsson’s quick shot from the hash marks … Neither the Leafs nor the Penguins were scheduled to practise on Monday … Forward Andreas Johnsson (knee) officially was placed on long-term injured reserve … Andersen remained at 24 wins. When he wins his next game, he will be the first Leafs goalie since Curtis Joseph (whose run ended in 2002) to have at least 25 victories in four consecutive seasons.
As you might expect, Auston Matthews’ teammates are taking note as No. 34 closes in on 50 goals.
“We’re all very aware of what he’s at and what number we want him to get to,” linemate Mitch Marner said. “We have a lot of games left, so hope we can get to that number. For us, it’s trying to make sure we don’t try to overdo it with the passing. But at the same time, we know he can score, so we’re not afraid to get in his hands.”
Said defenceman Justin Holl, referring to Matthews by the nickname bestowed by former Leaf Tyler Ennis: “The things Tony does on the ice every night are pretty impressive. He’s so in control out there so it’s really fun to see him have the kind of success he has been having and we’re looking forward to seeing a little bit more of it.”
KEEFE ON KORSHKOV
In 35 games with the Marlies, Korshkov had 14 goals and seven assists.
“He’s a guy that’s really worked to find his way and get comfortable in North America,” Keefe said. “When I was (coaching the Marlies), you could see a guy who was trying to figure a lot of things out in terms of the structure and positioning and the language, the style of play.
“The short sample last year in the (American Hockey League) playoffs, he was able to adjust, but it’s a different animal in the regular season and over the long haul. The games I’ve watched recently and all the reports that I’ve got, it’s starting to click for him. He is playing with lots of confidence offensively.”