on February 21, 2013 - 10:30 PM
, updated February 22, 2013 at 9:52 AM
TORONTO – The coach changed from Lindy Ruff to Ron Rolston, but not much else was different for the Buffalo Sabres.
They had stretches of lethargy and were sloppy with the puck. Their discipline and special teams let them down. They got outclassed during the second period.
Toronto dispatched the Sabres, 3-1, in Rolston’s debut Thursday in Air Canada Centre. With Terry Pegula watching on the eve of his two-year anniversary as team owner, the Sabres continued to struggle. They have lost three straight, five of six and eight of 11.
“We turned too many pucks over, forced some things, and I think it gave us some long shifts in our zone and really kind of lost the momentum for us in the game,” Rolston said.
A fresh outlook behind the bench couldn’t mask the Sabres’ season-long trends. They were careless in the second period as their 1-0 lead turned into a 2-1 deficit.
“It just keeps happening,” said center Cody Hodgson, whose team has allowed a league-worst 28 goals in middle periods. “We need to sort it out and fast.
“Nobody likes losing. It’s tough right now.”
Rolston’s team won the first period of his NHL coaching career, 1-0. It was the first time in nine games the Sabres held an advantage after 20 minutes. They hadn’t done so since going up, 2-1, against Florida on Feb. 3.
Tyler Ennis put Buffalo in front with 6:40 left, finishing a quick rush by firing from the right faceoff circle. He celebrated after beating goaltender Ben Scrivens high to the stick side.
After intermission, the celebrations belonged to the Maple Leafs. The Leafs scored twice to take the lead and outshot the Sabres, 15-7.
Dion Phaneuf’s 100th career goal tied the contest just 1:15 in, giving the 19,473 fans a rare chance to cheer the power play. They would do it again later. Toronto entered the game just 2 for 35 while a man up at home and finished 2 for 5. The Sabres went 0 for 3.
“They capitalized on their power plays, and we didn’t,” Ennis said. “That’s frustrating.”
The Maple Leafs camped in the Buffalo zone for extended stretches throughout the second, making it seem inevitable they’d strike again. They finally did with 1:56 left.
Toronto won a faceoff in its zone and quickly made a breakout pass that resulted in a two-on-one for its most dangerous offensive players. Phil Kessel skated to the faceoff circle before feeding James van Riemsdyk for a tap-in at the opposite side of the crease.
Rolston rubbed his eyes as the horn blew to end the disappointing period.
“I didn’t like our second period, obviously,” Rolston said. “That was probably the turning point. We made a mistake on an offensive-zone faceoff that you can’t make.”
Toronto delivered on its glorious chance to put the Sabres away. With Kevin Porter already in the box for tripping, Jochen Hecht joined him after shooting the puck over the glass. The Leafs had a five-on-three for 1:16 and needed 1:08 of it.
Goalie Ryan Miller stoned van Riemsdyk with a glove save while falling to the ice, but the Leafs ran the exact same cross-ice passing play again and the forward connected with 5:32 left. The goal put the Leafs up, 3-1, and sent Rolston toward his first loss.
“We don’t have the puck and we’re not getting the puck deep,” Miller said. “There you go. Start from the simplest thing to do and build from there. Guys have to execute. It’s brought up. It’s mentioned. It’s highlighted. You got me.
“We’re trying to figure it out. I think we got a pretty good handle on it. We’ve just got to execute.”
The next chance comes Saturday when Rolston makes his home debut against the New York Islanders.
“It’s not something that’s going to change overnight,” captain Jason Pominville said. “It’s a process that’s going to take time.”