The Leafs were left cold after the Heritage Classic got a little heated
HAMILTON There was pomp, there was circumstance and there were a lot of blue sweaters when the Maple Leafs faced the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday in the Heritage Classic.
And there were a lot of concerned Leafs faces after they dropped a 5-2 decision.
Auston Matthews scored his 45th goal of the season, but skated like he had a target on his back with the Sabres on him continually. He took his frustrations out on Rasmus Dahlin toward the end, with the outcome already determined.
With the puck well on its way to the neutral zone, Dahlin decked Matthews into the Sabres net. There was no call, and Dahlin did it again. Matthews retaliated with a cross-check of his own, one that got Dahlin in the neck and caught the eye of the NHL’s department of player safety. Matthews will have a hearing Monday that could result in a fine, a suspension or nothing at all for the league’s top goal-scorer.
“Obviously you’re just battling in front of the net,” said Matthews. “I felt like I rode up his shoulder. That’s hockey. It’s competitive out there. It’s physical.”
Dahlin saw it more or less the same way.
“It’s hockey. Things happen out there,” he said. “Things happen fast. It was intense. I’m fine. I’m just happy that we won. Not too worried about that (physical) stuff.”
After that incident, Leaf Michael Bunting went after Dylan Cozens, who’d laid Matthews out with an open-ice hit.
The point has been made recently that Matthews does not draw penalties like other stars despite how much of an offensive threat he is, though no one on the Leafs really seems to want to talk about it.
“Auston is a competitor, and he’s competing like everyone else,” said Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe.
But no less a voice than the grandmother of general manager Kyle Dubas chiming in. “Everyone waiting to enjoy the Heritage Classic only to be disappointed by the terrible officiating,” tweeted Marietta Dubas (@grammadubie).
Any interruption to the heater Matthews is on would not be a welcome development. He has been the best part of the Leafs this season. Matthews became the second active player with at least 45 goals within his first 56 games of a season. Alex Ovechkin got to 45 in 54 games in 2007-08, the year he went on to score 65.
There was frustration all around, not just about Matthews’s treatment. The Leafs have lost two in a row (0-1-1) and four of their last six, all to bottom-feeder teams (Arizona, Vancouver, Buffalo twice). And a big spotlight was on this game — with a sold-out crowd at Tim Hortons Field for one of the regular season’s signature games.
“When you go into this, one of the teams has to lose,” said defenceman Morgan Rielly. “And we talked about the importance of these points, the importance of the game in general. The build-up is what it is. There’s no way to get around that. That’s part of the fun. If you get to win, it’s great; if you lose, you’re disappointed.”
Goaltending issues are another frustration. It’s was the 10th time in their last 12 games that the Leafs allowed at least four goals. But Keefe said the outdoor game shouldn’t be seen as a referendum on Petr Mrázek’s goaltending.
The Sabres’ Peyton Krebs capitalized on a Timothy Liljegren giveaway 40 seconds after Ondrej Kaše opened the scoring in the second period. Liljegren’s night got shorter as a result. Then T.J. Brodie kicked a puck into his own net while trying to break up a pass, a goal credited to Vinnie Hinostroza.