Mitch Marner and the Maple Leafs heaped more misery on the slumping Sabres.
The winger had two assists — including a slick short-handed setup to cap a 3-0 first-period barrage — that pushed his point streak to 12 games as Toronto defeated Buffalo 5-2 on Saturday to extend its Atlantic Division rival’s losing run to eight.
“Just doing me, like usual,” said Marner, who had points in 13 straight outings last season. “Trying to buzz out there, trying to be the best I can be.
“Lucky enough to have some great people to put some pucks in the net and find me in spots that I can do the same.”
Marner, who has three goals and 14 assists during his red-hot stretch, is just the second player in franchise history to record points in 12 straight contests multiple times, joining Lorne Carr (14 games in 1942-43 and 13 games in 1943-44).
“His hockey sense is just off the charts,” Toronto netminder Matt Murray said. “He’s unbelievable.”
William Nylander scored twice, while John Tavares, with a goal and two assists, Calle Jarnkrok and Mark Giordano provided the rest of the offence for Toronto (10-5-4).
Murray made 32 saves as the Leafs improved to 6-1-2 over their last nine.
“Defensively, I thought we were exceptional,” Toronto head coach Sheldon Keefe said. “Between how we defended and then how Matt Murray played in goal, we were a tough team to beat.”
Alex Tuch and Casey Mittelstadt replied for Buffalo (7-11-0), which hasn’t earned a point in the standings since Nov. 2. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen stopped 18 shots in his first start of the season after being recalled from the AHL with Eric Comrie (lower-body injury) sidelined.
“It boils down to compete,” said Sabres head coach Don Granato, whose team took three of four from the Leafs in 2021-22. “We didn’t have enough guys competing hard enough at the start.
“That was the difference.”
Toronto opened the scoring at 12:58 of the first when Marner’s power-play shot went in off Tavares for the captain’s 10th goal before Jarnkrok made it 2-0 at 17:27 with his fourth.
The Sabres went to the man advantage late in the period, but Marner raced the other way on a breakaway before dropping a pass back for Giordano. Tuch dislodged the net from its moorings in a desperate backchecking effort before the Toronto defenceman shot the puck over the goal line.
Giordano’s first of 2022-23 was initially waved off — with Tuch assessed a delay-of-game penalty — but the sequence was ruled an “imminent scoring opportunity” following video review as the Leafs built a 3-0 advantage in just 5:23.
“Was honestly waiting for the rebound,” said Giordano, who scored the 13th short-handed goal of his career to tie Chris Chelios for fifth all-time.
The 39-year-old also had an inkling the no-look dish was coming after Marner pulled a similar move last season when the defenceman was captain of the Seattle Kraken.
“Buried me for a minus on that one,” Giordano said with a grin. “I was expecting it (Saturday). Great play.”
Buffalo got one back on a power play at 10:01 of the second off a Tuch deflection for the winger’s ninth before Murray, who picked up his first home victory in blue and white, held the fort on another Sabres man advantage.
Nylander restored Toronto’s three-goal edge at 14:50 on a power play when he swept home his ninth from the crease and added another on a breakaway at 10:37 of the third to make it 5-1 on a sweet Tavares aerial feed.
“Unreal,” Nylander said. “Saw the space and hoped that he would flip it.”
Mittelstadt rounded out the scoring with his fifth on a power play at 15:07 on a night where Buffalo offered little when the game was within reach.
“At 5-on-5 they had next to nothing,” Keefe said. “That’s as good as we’ve been.”
Sabres rookie defenceman Owen Power has nine assists in 18 games as the top pick at the 2021 draft navigates his first full NHL season.
The Mississauga, Ont., native said following Saturday’s morning skate his biggest eye-openers have been the travel and congested schedule after suiting up roughly twice a week in the USHL and NCAA the last four years.
“Still adjusting,” Power said. “How I’m feeling, how much work I’m putting in, how much rest I’m getting.”
Granato, who has Power on the top defence pair alongside Rasmus Dahlin, said the 19-year-old is like a sponge.
“Very good and consistent in learning and applying,” Granato said. “He absorbs what’s happening.
“He acclimates and re-acclimates very quickly.”
Leafs: Host the New York Islanders on Monday.
Sabres: Visit Montreal on Tuesday.