TORONTO — The Maple Leafs keep losing, but not by much.
Toronto dropped its sixth straight game on Monday night, a 4-3 shootout loss to the Buffalo Sabres at the Air Canada Centre that marked their fifth consecutive one-goal defeat.
“It sucks,” said Leo Komarov, who scored in the loss. “The last five games we’ve got a chance to win in every game and then when you keep losing it’s (tough).”
The Leafs have lost 22 of their last 27 games (5-18-4) and remain last in the NHL with 53 points.
The latter goal was the result of a failed handoff from Morgan Rielly to Nazem Kadri just out front of Garret Sparks in the Leafs net. Sam Reinhart picked the puck free and found Kane for the game-tying goal.
Reinhart then added the shootout winner.
“This was a game we were in total control of,” Leafs coach Mike Babcock said. “I thought we had the puck more. I thought we did more good things. And we still found a way not to get the points we wanted. That part’s disappointing. To give up the lead there, there was no reason to give up the lead.”
The victory for Buffalo snapped a string of six straight shootout losses.
While continuing to lose, Toronto also keeps landing contributions from its youth.
Twenty-three-year-old rookie Zach Hyman scored his first NHL goal, pushing a second-effort attempt by Sabres goaltender Chad Johnson late in the middle period.
Babcock has been enthused by how hard Hyman, a Toronto area native, seems to play.
“I don’t know how much he’s ever going to score,” Babcock said. “But he’s going to be able to penalty kill and play a regular shift and play with good players and get them the puck back.”
Twenty-two-year-old Nikita Soshnikov added his first career NHL assist against the Sabres. Soshnikov also mustered eight shot attempts and three hits in nearly 14 minutes.
He drew the ire of the Sabres Josh Gorges at one point for his rambunctious play.
“Every team is mad at him every night,” Babcock said. “I like that a lot.”
Soshnikov set up Komarov for the game’s first goal, connecting just 25 seconds into the first period. The two broke in on an odd-man rush against Johnson with Soshnikov drawing in Sabres defenceman Rasmus Ristolainen before feeding Komarov, who tallied his 19th goal this season.
The marker snapped a seven-game goal drought for Komarov and was just his fourth goal in the past 26 games.
Soshnikov was forced to briefly exit the action shortly after. He tumbled into the boards after a collision with Sabres defenceman Jake McCabe, remaining down on the ice for a few brief moments before being helped to the Toronto dressing room.
He returned to finish the game.
Returning from a two-game absence (upper-body injury), Brad Boyes put the Leafs ahead 2-0 later in the opening frame when his passing attempt ricocheted off the McCabe’s skate in front.
A member of the Sabres for parts of two seasons, Boyes has eight points in his last 11 games and eight goals this season.
Pysyk brought Buffalo to within one in the second period on a goal that had to be confirmed by video review. Sparks stopped the first Sabres attempt and then appeared to halt Pysyk’s rebound with his goal-stick only to have the puck cross the line, if barely.
It was the first goal of the season for Pysyk and snapped a 40-game drought.
Hyman put the Leafs back up by two just over three minutes later, joining Soshnikov and William Nylander as rookies to score their first goal in the past week.
Buffalo fought back to tie it with two third-period goals, including the 20th from Eichel, who beat Kadri to the slot after serving a penalty for roughing. The mistake in coverage was later compounded by the error from Rielly.
“We’ve got lots of kids in the lineup,” Babcock said. “But it wasn’t our kids that made mistakes tonight.”
The Leafs have been competitive in dropping six straight, though that seems of little consolation for the group despite mild expectations in a season marked by continued roster upheaval.
“We play well throughout the majority of the game,” said Kadri. “But we have little lapses and allow them to get back in the game and then we can’t seem to recover after.”
Monday marked only the second meeting between the Sabres and Leafs this season. The two teams, which hadn’t played since a late-October Sabres shootout win, meet two more times this month.
Milan Michalek made his Leafs debut, totalling one shot in nearly 13 minutes.