Maple Leafs investing in Marlies to build Cup contenders at both levels

Maple Leafs investing in Marlies to build Cup contenders at both levels
Leafs Babcock on goalie interference: we better get it solved
Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen (55) and Toronto Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri (43) collide during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Monday, March 5, 2018, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Ryan OReilly and Zemgus Girgensons scored 2:05 apart in the second period in the Buffalo Sabres 5-3 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, who lost their fourth straight on Monday night.

Sam Reinhart, Jason Pominville and Johan Larsson also scored for Buffalo. Rasmus Ristolainen had two assists on consecutive shots from the right point that were deflected in during the opening four minutes.

The Sabres improved to 7-5-2 in their last 14, a stretch in which the Eastern Conferences last-place team continues playing havoc with playoff contenders. Buffalo has now defeated each of the Atlantic Divisions three top teams, including Boston twice, over the past three weeks.

Leo Komarov had two goals and Mitch Marner also scored for Toronto. The Maple Leafs dropped to 0-2-2 in their past four to match their longest skid of the season.

Video: Babcock laughs at refs after baffling goalie interference review

Frederik Andersen stopped 19 shots in allowing five goals for the second consecutive outing after being yanked midway through a 5-2 loss to Washington in an outdoor game played at the U.S. Naval Academy on Saturday.

Andersen couldnt be faulted on Buffalos first four goals, all of which were set up by fortunate bounces.

Leafs Babcock on goalie interference: we better get it solved
Leafs Babcock on goalie interference: we better get it solved

With the game tied at 2, Girgensons was credited with scoring the go-ahead goal with 6:30 left in the second period when Reinharts bad-angle shot deflected in off Girgensons skate.

Video: Maple Leafs Post-Game: Frederik Andersen – March 5, 2018

The Sabres received yet another break in going up 4-2 when Toronto defenceman Ron Hainseys clearing attempt struck referee Kendrick Nicholsons skate. The puck caromed directly to OReilly, who scored from the right circle.

Larsson then sealed the win by converting a rebound in front midway through the third period before Marner scored with 2:03 left.

Chad Johnson stopped 38 shots and improved to 5-1 in his past seven outings, a stretch in which the Sabres backup has allowed just 12 goals.

The Sabres continued their home dominance over Toronto, improving to 19-3-1 in their past 23 meetings at Buffalo.

Video: Maple Leafs Morning Skate: Zach Hyman – March 5, 2018

This marked the first meeting of the season between the cross-border rivals. As in the past, a large "Go, Leafs, Go!"-chanting contingent of Toronto fans made the trip to help fill most of the arena in what was one of the largest crowds in months.

Slumping Leafs take a beating in Buffalo
Slumping Leafs take a beating in Buffalo

One of the more amusing moments came when television cameras captured an exchange between Ristolainen and Torontos Nazem Kadri, after the two were sent to the penalty box for fighting in the second period.

Ristolainen held up four fingers in telling Kadri that the teams play four more times.

Kadri responded by correcting Ristolainen, saying its only three more times because Mondays game didnt count.

Challenges for Maple Leafs Matt Martin could continue after long stint as spectator ends

NOTES: Maple Leafs LW Matt Martin had an assist while playing for the first time since a 4-2 loss to Colorado on Jan. 22. Martin had been a healthy scratch for 18 consecutive games. … Sabres C Jack Eichel began skating on his own over the weekend, though theres no timetable for his potential return. Eichel missed his 11th straight game since spraining his right ankle in a 4-2 win at Boston on Feb. 10. … Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock on what his penalty killers need to do differently after going 0-for-2 against Washington on Saturday: "Weve got to go to the meeting and then do what was said in the meeting. That would be a good start."

Maple Leafs: Get four-day break before hosting the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday.

Four things to take away from Leafs loss to Sabres
Four things to take away from Leafs loss to Sabres

Toronto Maple Leafs left wing Matt Martin (15) celebrates a goal by teammate Nikita Zaitsev (22), not shown, as Chicago Blackhawks goalie Anton Forsberg (31) and teammate Gustav Forsling (42) look on during second period NHL action in Toronto on Monday, October 9, 2017. (Frank Gunn/CP)

Four things to take away from Leafs loss to Sabres
Four things to take away from Leafs loss to Sabres

BUFFALO, N.Y. – Consider it the first day of the rest of Matt Martins life.

To say he was tested during a six-week, 18-game stretch as a healthy scratch by the Toronto Maple Leafs would be putting it mildly. The veteran winger is a proud guy. And hed never previously been sat down for more than one game at a time.

Thats why there was a mix of emotions when Martin arrived at KeyBank Center on Monday morning and found out that hed be playing against the Buffalo Sabres later that night.

I dont know if theres pressure, said Martin. Ive been around long enough to kind of be past that. I think you do what you do and youve got to keep it simple. I think Babs says all the time: Just do your job. I think once you start trying to overthink it and start trying to do too much, its only going to bite you.

A little bit of a nervous energy, I guess, going back in there. Its going to be interesting early on with the pace and just trying to make plays and not turn pucks over and then go from there. Im excited more than I am nervous or feeling pressure.

The Leafs held an optional morning skate, so it wasnt entirely clear how the lineup would shake out. Martin is most likely replacing Dominic Moore on the fourth line, with Connor Carrick drawing back in on the bottom defensive pair for Roman Polak.

Head coach Mike Babcock was unhappy with Torontos performance in a 5-2 loss to Washington in Saturdays Stadium Series game at Navy – dropping them to 0-1-2 on this road trip.

Sabres, Reinhart enjoy their net result against Leafs

His message for Martin was relatively simple: Just go out and work hard and do what you do.

Annapolis mystery solved: NHL brownout caused by wind and slow-starting lights

I think its real important that each guy understands his own game and how they play and how they go about their business, said Babcock. Then when you get your opportunity go out and do that.

Martin has performed better this season than last – with three goals, 11 points and a 49 per cent Corsi rating – but got removed from a struggling lineup when Kasperi Kapanen was recalled from the American Hockey League in late January.

Leafs outdoor game magic comes to end in 5-2 loss to Capitals

It was part of a decision from Babcock to play with more speed through the lineup and the Leafs went 13-2-0 in Martins first 15 games as a scratch.

Maple Leafs Recent Dealings With the Flames

There may be an opportunity for him now with Mondays game against the lottery-bound Sabres being the first of four meetings between the teams over four weeks – games that could take on a nasty edge.

Martin was frustrated during the extended run in the press box. He still has two years remaining on the free-agent contract he signed in Toronto and was mentioned in trade rumours before last weeks deadline.

Maple Leafs drop fourth in a row with loss to Sabres

When it first starts you think its just going to be a couple [games] and then I think we hit a month not too long ago, said Martin. It definitely dragged on for awhile. Some days are harder than others, but youve got to continue to be positive and continue to work hard.

If you dont, when you do get in the lineup and youre not ready for it, its not going to help you out too much.

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