It had to happen eventually.
Sheldon Keefe suffered his first loss as head coach of the Maple Leafs on Friday as Toronto fell 6-4 to the Buffalo Sabres. It was a surprising result given the Leafs’ surge under their new coach, combined with their recent record against their nearby rivals. Toronto had won the previous five meetings between the clubs, and the Sabres headed into the matchup having won just once in their previous six contests overall.
A pair of goals by John Tavares gave Toronto a 2-0 lead early in the second period, but Buffalo battled back with four straight goals to grab a lead that was never relinquished.
The Sabres leapfrogged the Leafs for third place in the Atlantic Division with their win — but both clubs still have 28 points.
Here are three takeaways from Friday’s game.
Hutchinson blows second chance
Under-fire backup goalie Michael Hutchinson started Friday’s game — the first of back-to-back contests between the teams this weekend — at the behest of Keefe, who felt the 29-year-old netminder deserved another chance.
The first period went very well for Hutchinson as he turned away all 13 Buffalo shots, but the following 40 minutes were as up-and-down as the rest of the season has been for the beleaguered goaltender. The Sabres peppered Toronto’s net with another 13 shots in the second period and four of them went in as Hutchinson’s inconsistencies resurfaced.
Buffalo’s second-period outburst meant Hutchinson became the first Leafs goalie in over a decade to allow four or more goals in six straight starts.
Another goal against in the third (Buffalo’s sixth was an empty-netter) solidified the latest disappointing outing for the netminder.
Dump and chase no more
One of the first things Keefe implemented after taking over was an emphasis on puck possession. It was noticeable almost immediately when the Leafs transitioned between line changes, as the team looked to cycle the puck while players changed rather than simply dumping it into the offensive zone.
What resulted was, obviously, more time for Toronto’s puck movers to do work, starting rushes that led to scoring chances.
This was most evident in the Leafs’ opening goal on Friday, when Tavares was the beneficiary of a patient play by Zach Hyman at the Sabres’ blue line. Instead of flipping the puck into the Buffalo zone, Hyman dropped it back to Morgan Rielly deep in Toronto’s end. From there, Rielly started the move into the Sabres’ zone, and it was eventually finished off by Tavares.
Keefe’s streak over
The new coach headed into Friday’s action with the chance to set a record for a rookie Leafs bench boss, as his three straight wins to start his Toronto coaching career was equal to Pat Quinn’s mark set back in 1998.
Had the Leafs managed to defeat the Sabres, it would’ve marked Keefe’s fourth victory in his first four games as an NHL head coach. Alas, the 39-year-old coach will have to make do with sharing the franchise mark with Hall-of-Famer Quinn.
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