TORONTO — Following two consecutive losses, Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock said he would use his next game to evaluate Auston Matthews and Patrick Marleau together so he can see them in action on the power play.
He got his wish thanks to a lack of discipline from the Buffalo Sabres, but it was clear to him the unit needs some work.
“They weren’t great on the power play. I mean, we had lots of chances, lots of posts,” Babcock said.
The Sabres gifted the Leafs nine power-play chances in total.
“We had plenty of opportunities to work on it, (but) not all of the results,” Rielly said. But we got one which was nice.”
Rielly scored his first goal of the pre-season when he carried the puck from the Leafs (1-2-0) end of the ice before sliding the puck underneath the left pad of Sabres (1-1-1) goaltender Linus Ullmark at 3:23 of the second period.
The nine Sabres penalties gave Marleau and Matthews plenty of time to work on their chemistry. Both are expected to play on the team’s top power-play unit when the regular season gets underway in under two weeks.
“I think it was good at times. We need to spread the other team out a little bit more,” Marleau said of the power play. “It felt good. I think we did some really good things, maybe we were passing it around a little too much.”
Toronto dominated the Sabres, outshooting them 35-18.
“Because of the penalties, I don’t think we were ready to play,” said Sabres head coach Phil Housley.
Marleau signed a three-year $US18.75-million contract with the Leafs in July after spending the last 19 seasons with the San Jose Sharks. The lack of familiarity may have contributed to the feeling-out process.
“Maybe (being) the new guy, I’m forcing some plays,” Marleau said. “Once we focused on shooting the puck and not getting too cute, we were getting some loose pucks around the net and we looked dangerous.”
The Leafs are counting on Marleau to contribute to an offence that was anchored by rookies last season. The hope is Marleau will take rookies like Matthews (even if only on the power play) to the next level of their development.
“Those two are going to build some great chemistry,” Rielly said. “They’re both extremely smart players, extremely good skaters and very skilled. If you let them work long enough, they’re going to be great.”
After a pair of one-sided losses to open their pre-season, the Leafs bounced back with a controlled effort. The Leafs held the Sabres away from their own end of the rink for much of the game.
Buffalo recorded its first shot of the game at 8:00 of the first period after Toronto had recorded nine.
McElhinney, the Leafs’ incumbent backup goaltender, bounced back after allowing four goals on 12 shots in a 6-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators on Monday.
McElhinney made 14 saves through the first two periods. Sparks made four saves in the third period.
Leo Komarov and William Nylander scored empty-net goals for Toronto.
Ullmark played the whole game for Buffalo. He made 32 saves on 33 shots.
Notes: The Leafs played their first game of any kind at Ricoh Coliseum. The building is home to the Toronto Marlies, the team’s American Hockey League affiliate. Toronto will play its remaining two games at Ricoh because the Air Canada Centre is hosting activities for Invictus Games Toronto 2017.