Sabres exploit Maple Leafs’ goaltending at 2022 Heritage Classic

A Maple Leafs-heavy crowd in Hamilton, Ontario saw more of the team’s goaltending problems, as the Sabres won the 2022 Heritage Classic by a score of 5-2.

Auston Matthews lost his cool at the end of the game, and it remains to be seen if he might cost himself a suspension. Matthews delivered a dangerous cross-check on Rasmus Dahlin late in the loss.

TSN’s Chris Johnston reports that the NHL’s Department of Player Safety will review Matthews’ cross-check on Dahlin. Here’s footage of that exchange:

Heritage Classic dress-up: Sabres go ‘Semi-Pro,’ Maple Leafs bring work pails

Not sure who decided to make outdoor games pseudo-Halloween, but they should be applauded.

Heading into the 2022 Heritage Classic, both the Sabres and Maple Leafs went with themed costumes. The Sabres went the extra mile evoking the 2008 Will Ferrell comedy “Semi-Pro.” Apparently it was Cody Eakin’s idea.

Gotta admit, didn’t think “Semi-Pro” was popular enough to receive such an homage. Guess it makes more sense than drawing on wounds, “Step Brothers”-style, though.

Meanwhile, the Maple Leafs arrived dressed up like construction workers.

Considering the weather, the vintage basketball short shorts were a bold choice by Buffalo. Temperatures in Hamilton, Ontario were at about -3 Celsius, or 28 degrees Fahrenheit. Conditions seemed reasonably decent for a hockey game, albeit with light snow. Wind was also, at times, a factor.

Of all the clothing talk, it was hard not to linger on Kyle Dubas and Brendan Shanahan looking dismayed in “Peaky Blinders” hats.

An action-packed second period, Sabres pull away in third

Following a dull first period, the Sabres and Maple Leafs began the middle frame on fire.

Ondrej Kase scored from in close on a rebound to make it 1-0 for the Maple Leafs, but Peyton Krebs tied it for the Sabres 41 seconds later.

[Krebs, Alex Tuch showing early returns in Sabres’ side of Jack Eichel trade]

Not long after Craig Anderson robbed him with a nice glove save, Auston Matthews restored Toronto’s lead with his 45th goal of the season. The Maple Leafs and Sabres combined for those three goals less than three minutes into the second period.

Later on in the second, Vinnie Hinostroza scored an odd goal that resulted from a heady play, and some bad luck for T.J. Brodie.

During the third period, Vinnie Hinostroza made it 3-2, collecting his third point of the Heritage Classic. Could a performance like this drive up 2022 NHL Trade Deadline interest in Hinostroza?

Ultimately, the Sabres exploited the Maple Leafs’ goaltending crisis to pull away in the third period. More on that soon, but first, some praise for Auston Matthews. Even if he likely won’t want to hear about it.

And even if Matthews’ cross-check on Dahlin could “end” his goal streak with a suspension.

Auston Matthews keeps building Hart Trophy case

In or outdoors, Auston Matthews is playing at a historic level. It’s tricky, though, to make any bold arguments about Matthews being a slam-dunk Hart Trophy choice. That’s not a slight on Matthews; instead, it highlights just how special an era we’re experiencing.

(Frankly, the Matthews vs. Igor Shesterkin debate may be even tougher.)

Beyond already-impressive full-season numbers, you can zoom in on even hotter pockets of play for Matthews. Over the last 39 games, Matthews has scored an outstanding 38 goals. Matthews also extended his goal streak to five games (8G, 1A) at the 2022 Heritage Classic.

Zooming out provides additional perspective, too. After starting the season without a goal through three games, Auston Matthews hasn’t experienced a goal drought longer than two games during any other stretch of the season.

Special stuff from Matthews.

Maple Leafs goaltending remains a major concern

There’s an uncomfortable thought lingering around the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline. While plenty of teams could use a goaltending upgrade, is there really one available? Teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs might just have to hope for the best at the trade deadline, whether that means gambling on an improvement or counting on rebounds from Petr Mrazek and/or Jack Campbell. (Once Campbell’s healthy?)

Facing a shaky Sabres opponent at the 2022 Heritage Classic did not erase that thought for Maple Leafs fans. Goals like the one Mrazek allowed against Hinostroza only make it tougher to bank on a turnaround.

Since a wild 10-7 win against the Red Wings, the Maple Leafs’ wins or losses have boiled down to their ability to overcome leaky goaltending. During the past eight games, the Maple Leafs have allowed at least four goals on seven occasions. In that one exception, they gave up three while beating Washington.

Credit Matthews, Mitch Marner, and other Maple Leafs skaters for grinding out wins despite goaltending failures — on occasions. All things considered, salvaging five wins out of their last nine games (5-3-1) is something of a backwards accomplishment.

You know that thought about Matthews being elite in and outdoors? It looks like the Maple Leafs’ goaltending problems may follow them wherever they go.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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