TORONTO — Mitchell Marner had two assists to extend his point streak to 12 games, and the Toronto Maple Leafs handed the Buffalo Sabers their eighth consecutive loss with a 5-2 win at Scotiabank Arena on Saturday.
“We were really good through the neutral zone, we didn’t really force too many plays,” Marner said. “When there were plays to be made, we made them, but we didn’t force anything. I thought we did a great job of keeping with their speed and sticking through the neutral zone and being tough to get through as a unit with them coming at us with the puck in their hands.”
Marner has 17 points (three goals, 14 assists) during his point streak, which is the longest in the NHL this season.
“He’s found a way here,” Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe said. “He’s making an impact in the game in so many ways, finding a way to contribute to our team whether it’s a big goal or finding ways to contribute offensively to help our team score goals, defending, penalty kill. He’s doing a lot of things that’s helping our team win.”
William Nylander scored twice, and John Tavares had a goal and an assist for the Maple Leafs (10-5-4), who are 6-1-2 in their past nine games. Matt Murray made 32 saves in his third consecutive start since missing 14 games with an adductor muscle injury.
Alex Tuch scored, and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen made 18 saves for the Sabers (7-11-0), who haven’t won since defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins 6-3 on Nov. 2.
“I do think it boils down to competing,” Buffalo coach Don Granato said. “We didn’t have enough guys competing hard enough at the start. Rasmus Dahlin, Tage Thompson and Dylan Cozens are three guys that stick out to me as tremendous competitive players each and every night. They were very competitive tonight, but we didn’t have enough with them early, and that was the difference. For us, the last few games that’s been the case, and things will resolve a lot sooner with more guys competing at a higher level.”
Tavares put the Maple Leafs ahead 1-0 at 12:58 of the first period when he deflected Marner’s shot on a power play for his 10th goal of the season.
“It’s pretty standard for Mitch, the way he can play the game year in and year out,” Tavares said. “His ability to make plays and make the people around him better and play in all situations and do what he does. Obviously, a strong night from him.”
Calle Jarnkrok made it 2-0 at 17:27 when he one-timed a pass from Pierre Engvallwho was behind the net.
Mark Giordano extended the lead to 3-0 at 18:21, receiving a drop pass from Marner in the slot while short-handed and scoring past Luukkonen’s right pad. The goal was initially disallowed because Tuch knocked the net off its moorings, but the call was overturned after a video review determined the puck crossed the goal line between the normal position of the posts and Giordano had an imminent scoring opportunity prior to the posts being displaced .
“I thought it should be a goal, and then usually when you hear the horn go from there [timekeeper’s] box, usually you know it’s probably because it’s going to be called the other way,” Marner said. “So as soon as I heard that horn, I had some pretty good belief it was going to be a goal.”
Tuch cut the lead to 3-1 at 10:01 of the second, but Nylander answered at 14:50 on the power play to make it 4-1.
“When you come out and play really strong and you don’t capitalize on some opportunities, it can get a little frustrating,” Tuch said. “Just being able to stay on it, I guess we just kind of let off and they’re a team that is going to capitalize on mistakes and momentum. They’re a really good team, a lot of skill guys over there. They beat us straight up, flat out tonight.”
Nylander scored on a breakaway to make it 5-1 at 10:37. The goal was also his 10th of the season to tie Tavares for most on the Maple Leafs.
“Last year we had some issues against Buffalo (1-3-0), so it was nice to get back on the right track from the beginning of the season against them,” Nylander said.
Casey Mittelstadt cut it to 5-2 with a power-play goal at 15:07.
Murray is 3-0-0 since returning to the lineup, allowing seven goals.
“I can just tell you being behind the bench and seeing our players, he gave our team tremendous confidence tonight,” Keefe said.
NOTES: Marner is the second player in Maple Leafs history to have multiple point streaks of at least 12 games, joining Lorne Carr (14 in 1942-43 and 13 in 1943-44). He had a 13-game run from March 15 to April 9, 2022. … Giordano’s short-handed goal was the 13th of his NHL career, tying Chris Chelios for fifth-most by a defenseman in NHL history, behind Mark Howe ( 28), Paul Coffey (20), Ray Bourque (16) and Bobby Orr (16).