The Buffalo Sabres knew how welcoming the Toronto net had been. All it took was a glimpse at the standings to see no team had allowed more goals than the Maple Leafs.
It didn't matter. The Sabres' offense is struggling so badly, it couldn't even capitalize against the NHL's worst defense.
The Sabres were shut out for the second time in three games Friday night, dropping a 3-0 decision to Toronto in sold-out HSBC Arena. The Sabres took 30 shots, but not one could beat Leafs goaltender Andrew Raycroft.
"That game may have been as good as we've played," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "We came out, hit three goal posts, had a goal taken away. I thought we skated very well. We spent very little time in our own end. It didn't go in. It's frustrating. That's frustrating."
The Sabres weren't shut out once during the regular season last year. They've already been blanked three times in just 15 games.
"When you have the record that we have right now, it's tough putting those things in sometimes," Sabres forward Jochen Hecht said.
After 39 scoreless minutes, Toronto finally opened the scoring with 35.2 seconds left in the second period. The goal was the finale of an unenviable chain of events for Sabres center Paul Gaustad.
First, Gaustad was tossed out of the faceoff circle, which forced Clarke MacArthur to step to the dot in the Buffalo zone. Toronto captain Mats Sundin cleanly won the draw back to Bryan McCabe. The defenseman, who missed the previous seven games with a groin strain, took a quick shot that caromed off Gaustad's stick and over goaltender Ryan Miller.
Gaustad could only tilt his head toward the roof as the goal light flashed and Leaf Nation erupted.
"It's tough," Gaustad said. "It's a tough play when I get kicked out for not doing anything. He said I was late [getting ready for the draw], which is fine, but it's tough in the last minute of a period to get kicked out there.
"The shot deflected off my stick when I was coming out to block it. There's not much you can do."
The Leafs expanded the advantage to 2-0 with an odd-man rush just 2:54 into the third period. Alexei Ponikarovsky dropped a pass to Tomas Kaberle at the blue line, and the defenseman spotted Sundin breaking in alone. The captain beat Miller on the glove side.
Hecht could have tied the game single-handedly 2 1/2 minutes later. He hit the crossbar, and after a stoppage he hit the post.
"We still get those chances, so that's a positive," Hecht said.
Boyd Devereaux made it a 3-0 final with 58 seconds left when he took advantage of a turnover by Jaroslav Spacek.
The Sabres actually scored first for the first time since Oct. 11, but the apparent goal was quickly disallowed because Gaustad was whistled for goaltender interference. The Sabres haven't held a lead during a game since Oct. 26 in Florida -- seven games ago -- and failing to get that 1-0 advantage cost them again.
"I just tried to get position in front of their net, and I got hit by their D-man and bumped into Raycroft," Gaustad said. "That's a tough call."
The disallowed goal was the first of several near misses for the Sabres in a dominant first period. Jason Pominville's shot from the point went off the glove of Raycroft and bounced harmlessly off the post. Then, Nathan Paetsch recovered a rebound and had an open net, but Raycroft dived to his right and got the inside of his blocker on the puck.
The Sabres took 15 of the 19 shots in the opening period, but the teams skated into intermission in a 0-0 tie. Nine of the Sabres' shots came on two power plays. The Leafs also blocked eight shots. They finished the game with 20 blocks.
"We've got to give them credit for getting in those shooting lanes," Hecht said. "We've got to find a way to get those shots around the 'D.'
"We didn't give up a lot of shots , so that's a step in the right direction. Now we've got to start scoring goals."