TORONTO – The NHL’s worst team can certainly tease you. Before Monday’s 5-2 loss, in the last week, the Buffalo Sabres had beaten the Nashville Predators and the Maple Leafs, two heavyweights.
A week ago, the Sabres defeated the 48-win Maple Leafs here 3-2, ending their 13-game home winning streak. On Saturday, the Sabres triumphed 7-4 in Nashville, kicking around the league’s best team.
But the Sabres have demonstrated little consistency this trying season. Dreadful losses quickly overshadow their significant wins.
Two days after arguably their most impressive victory this season – remember, there are only 25 to choose from – they reverted back to their regular ways, losing their 54th game (42nd in regulation).
“The frustrating part at times is you take a step forward, you think you’re heading in the right direction, and then we take a step back, didn’t play the way we wanted to play,” Sabres winger Jason Pominville said. “We were playing good teams, played a great game in Nashville and then got a pretty good start tonight, and after that just wasn’t what we need to play to win.”
The Maple Leafs’ skill simply overwhelmed the Sabres before the capacity crowd of 18,846 inside the Air Canada Centre.
Center Auston Matthews scored two power-play goals from the left circle, giving him 33 goals in only 60 games this season. Matthews, 20, has scored 71 times in his first 142 NHL appearances.
In between his goals, Matthews fed a slick pass through the neutral zone in the second period to linemate William Nylander, who split the Buffalo defense and beat goalie Chad Johnson. Minutes later, Nylander scored again.
During Toronto’s three-goal second period, the Sabres showcased awful puck management.
“We got away from what we do and we got to defend hard to win games and maybe too many turnovers fed to their transition and what they do best,” said Pominville, who scored a power-play goal early in the third period. “They’re a good team, they stick to it, they don’t deviate. They showed it tonight.”
The Sabres hung around for about the first 25 minutes. After Maple Leafs winger Andreas Johnsson scored 5:44 into the contest, Sabres winger Sam Reinhart tied it on the power play, tipping a shot in front of goalie Curtis McElhinney, his career-high 24th goal.
“Then we didn’t manage the puck very well – get caught on a line change, turn the puck over and the game gets out of our reach,” Sabres coach Phil Housley said. “We talked about this team, they have a terrific rush game and they finish on their opportunities and we fed it to them. It was not characteristic of what we played last game.”
He added: “They kept everything in front of them. We’re not a team that can trade chances with a team like that.”
At this stage, the Sabres can’t compete with the NHL’s top teams every night.
“Sometimes it’s tough beating these guys when they’re at their best,” Johnson said. “There’s a reason they have as many points as they do. We’re still finding that consistency in our game. It’s tough to have an outing like we did tonight.”
The Sabres have three games left this season.