TORONTO – Auston Matthews did his job. The same went for Mitch Marner.
That was about it for the Toronto Maple Leafs with the puck on their collective sticks.
And that lack of offensive punch outside the team’s top guns is a growing concern.
Alex Tuch scored twice, including the winner, as the Buffalo Sabres survived Matthews’ third hat trick of the season and Marner’s four-point Saturday to down Toronto 6-4.
The Leafs dropped a fourth straight game (0-2-2) on another night where their stars provided all of the attack.
“A lot of heavy lifting for our top guys right now,” Toronto head coach Sheldon Keefe said.
“We’ve got a bunch of guys that we need to get playing better,” he added later.
William Nylander and John Tavares — the other key elements to the Leafs’ offence — have had excellent starts to the season, but Tyler Bertuzzi has one point at even strength, while fellow summer acquisition Max Domi has yet to score.
“Everyone wants to execute … everyone wants to produce,” Marner said. “Stay patient with it, stay positive.”
JJ Peterka, with a goal and an assist, Tage Thompson, Jeff Skinner and Jordan Greenway also scored for Buffalo (6-6-0). Devon Levi made 25 saves.
“Even if they scored, we didn’t let them get too much momentum,” Tuch said. “We didn’t sit back and whine and complain. We just kept playing Sabres hockey.”
Matthews registered the 10th hat trick of his career for Toronto (5-4-2), while Marner added a goal and three assists. Joseph Woll made 35 stops for the struggling Leafs.
“Every time we were in control and the game was right there for us, just gave it back — right back,” Matthews said. “We just haven’t played a full, complete team game where we’re rolling out four lines and making it really difficult on the opposing team for a full 60 minutes.”
Max Lajoie took Timothy Liljegren’s spot with the Leafs defenceman on long-term injured reserve after he was tripped into the boards by Brad Marchand and suffered a high ankle sprain in Thursday’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Bruins in Boston — Matthews and Marner had the goals in that one — but saw less than five minutes of action.
“The third period was the most exhausted I’ve seen a corps of defencemen in my time in this league,” Keefe said.
Tuch put Saturday’s back-and-forth final 20 minutes to bed at 12:48 when Rasmus Dahlin’s point shot hit the big winger and caromed past Woll for his second goal of the season.
Tuch then added an exclamation point with 66 seconds left when he buried his third into an empty net after fighting off both William Nylander and John Klingberg.
Down 3-2 through 40 minutes, the Leafs tied it 17 seconds into the third when Marner found Matthews in front for his 10th.
Greenway restored Buffalo’s lead at 3:11 when he buried his second on a rebound after Woll made a terrific stop on Casey Mittelstadt.
But Matthews tipped home his third of the night — and 11th of the campaign in his 11th game — off Giordano’s point shot at 7:27 to make it 4-4 as hats rained down from the Scotiabank Arena crowd.
Woll then made a big stop on a Peterka with Nylander in hot pursuit to keep the teams level before Tuch struck.
“Every time we found a way to get back in the game we gave them one,” Giordano said. “Pretty disappointing.”
Toronto opened the scoring at 12:05 of the first when Marner took a breakaway feed and fired his fourth.
The Leafs took their third too many men on the ice penalty of the season later in the period, and Peterka capitalized on the ensuing power play when he snapped his fifth past Woll at 16:13.
Coming off Friday’s ugly 5-1 home defeat to the Philadelphia Flyers, the Sabres went up 2-1 at 6:28 of the second when Thompson stole the puck from Marner on a Toronto man advantage and scored his sixth — and second short-handed.
Matthews tied it on another Toronto power play at 11:22 with his ninth off a Nylander setup.
But the visitors went back in front 3-2 just 34 seconds later when Skinner blasted a slapshot upstairs over Woll’s shoulder for his sixth. Rookie defenceman Ryan Johnson, who made his NHL debut, picked up an assist.
“These ones sting,” Giordano said of falling to an Atlantic Division rival on home ice. “These are big games, doesn’t matter what time of year it is. We know what type of team we have, we know the calibre team we have, but we’ve got to go out there and prove that and play better.
“That’s the bottom line.”
Nylander extended his franchise-record point streak to open a season to 11 games with an assist. He also became the fourth Swede in NHL history to record points in 11 straight contests to start a campaign, joining Mats Sundin (1992-93), Henrik Zetterberg (2007-08) and Jesper Bratt (2022-23).
Marner’s goal was the 564th point of his career to move past Bob Pulford for sole possession of eighth on the Leafs’ all-time list. Matthews’ power-play goal, meanwhile, was the 80th of his career to break a tie with Wendel Clark for the fourth most in franchise history.
Leafs: Host the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday.
Sabres: Visit the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 4, 2023.
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