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23rd of October 2018

Travel



Leafs win a tough fourth pre-season game

BUFFALO — Once the Sabres and the Maple Leafs ceased their duelling on Saturday, Mike Babcock could get down to some real cutting.

With his team’s record of 4-0 in exhibition play making some of his decisions harder, Toronto’s coach will use a day off Sunday to determine separate NHL and AHL groups of the 40-plus still in camp.

“Then we’ll get our team together at least two times going into the season so we can be up and running,” Babcock said after a 3-2 win at the KeyBank Center. “We have to get the power play and penalty kill together. You need the (important) people in the same game to do that.”

The Leafs, who have not won six exhibition games since 2009, play the Canadiens twice early this week, before facing Detroit twice, the games in which Babcock hopes to have as close a version of his final roster ready for Oct. 3 as he can.

On Saturday there was more success for Tyler Ennis on Auston Matthew’s right wing, hooking up for Toronto’s first goal, and a new wrinkle, partners Calle Rosen and Igor Ozhiganov playing a strong positional blueline game.

Rosen scored the power-play winner in the third and started the play that led to Jeremy Bracco’s second period goal. Rosen and Ozhiganov were also out in the final minute with the Buffalo net empty.

“Those are different players, but they’re going in the right direction,” Babcock said of the Swede and the Russian.

STAR GAZING

Friendly foes Matthews of the Leafs and Jack Eichel of the Sabres, both alternate captains for this match, had a point each and played well, but it was a more vital outing for Rosen, Ozhiganov and Justin Holl.

“It’s fun to be here and play every game,” Rosen said. “Igor and I only had one practice together and we had to adjust.”

Countryman Rasmus Dahlin, Buffalo the No. 1 overall pick, had a terrible early giveaway to Matthews in the slot, but recovered to tie his stick up.

Toronto starter Frederik Andersen made 19 saves through two periods before Calvin Pickard finished with a bang, bailing out a few teammates with 14 third-period stops.

ENNIS THE MENACE

A local mall’s sporting goods store had a No. 63 Ennis Buffalo sweater buried in its clearance rack on game day, but the latter was not going to shy away on Saturday.

With an assist, a couple of close calls around the net, some shot blocks and a few hacks exchanged with giant defenceman Rasmus Ristolainen, Ennis was quite visible to his former teammates and fans.

“Nice to see some of the staff, the trainers, a lot of great people,” Ennis said. “(Ristolainen) is a great guy. He hit me hard and sometimes no matter who it is, you get a little upset. I just tried to throw my small frame back at him.”

In his last season as a Sabre, Ennis completed a fall from one of the team’s top offensive players to fourth-line status. Three 20-goal seasons had turned into long stretches without putting the puck in while Buffalo had missed the playoffs six straight years.

A trade to Minnesota last year didn’t work out either, with the Wild buying him out, before he got a lifeline from the Leafs. The injuries that contributed to his difficulties the past few seasons, including groin surgery, have been so far under control with a different sports science staff in Toronto.

It helps he’s getting prime time ice with Matthews and left winger Patrick Marleau in William Nylander’s absence, at least for now, instead of vying for a lesser role as a checker.

PAR FOR THE COURSE

Babcock thinks the inclusion of Swedish Hockey League veteran Par Lindholm has helped form the nucleus of a fine fourth line, flanked by Andreas Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen, who’ve been in North America longer.

“For sure. I just think Lindy is a very intelligent player,” Babcock said Saturday morning. “His English is good, so it’s easier for him, but he gets up to speed quickly and he is really smart. His hockey senses and his edges are unreal. It looks like we got ourselves a good player.”

Lindgren was a big part of Saturday’s penalty kill, three straight after the unit gave up an early goal to Kyle Okposo.

IS OZ UP TO IT?

Babcock was keen to see how Ozhiganov would perform in his second NHL exhibition, on NHL ice after his first game in the Lucan band box. The coach was asked what signal he is looking for that the Russian is ready.

“I don’t know. What’s going to tell me Rosen is ready, what’s going to tell me (Andreas) Borgman is ready? I’m just going to keep watching and put them in situations.”

Ozhiganov went after Ristolainen after the latter’s first encounter with Ennis and timed a couple of hard checks as Sabres tried to squeeze past him down the wall.

LOOSE LEAFS

Leafs winger Emerson Clark, who has made shift disturbing his specialty in the minors, went toe-to-toe with a taller Tyler Randall in a free swinging second-period scrap. Rochester Americans’ GM Randy Sexton told The Athletic Buffalo “the day of the enforcer is long gone, but we want to create a team identity. We’ve added a few players (such as Randall) we think will help accelerate that process” … Leaf Andrew Nielsen and Tage Thompson also tangled briefly … With eight Swedes in the game, it made sense the Scandinavian newspaper Aftonbladet had a reporter in Buffalo … Rosen looked like Cal Ripken Jr. in the second period when he gloved down a hard clear by the Sabres and turned it up ice in one motion. That play ended with Jeremy Bracco tipping his second goal of the of the pre-season past Carter Hutton on a Holl point shot … Andersen had to go post to post a few times with plays developing behind him. On one Nathan Beaulieu shot from a tight angle — intended to create a rebound for Sabres near the crease — Andersen knew to direct it up and out of play … Matthews took 20 draws, winning 11.

lhornby@postmedia.com

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