TORONTO – For the first time in his NHL career, Jack Eichel didn’t play. His teammates followed his lead.
Eichel came down with the flu after arriving in Toronto and sat out a 4-1 loss to the Maple Leafs on Saturday night. The rookie dressed in Buffalo’s opening 72 games.
“It didn’t come on until early morning,” said coach Dan Bylsma, who added there had been hope Eichel could play through the illness. “He was feeling OK. He’s having too many actions, but he was feeling OK. This afternoon he took a turn for the flu worse.”
The Sabres also took a turn for the worse. After going 2-0-1 in their previous three, they went through the motions for much of the game in front of 18,829 in Air Canada Centre. Buffalo took just three shots in the first period and finished in a 31-21 hole.
Pouring it on: The Leafs scored twice in 1:14 late in the third period to send the Sabres toward the bus for the ride home. Martin Marincin got open on the right side and buried a pass from P-A Parenteau with 4:28 left, making it 3-1. With the fans still cheering, Milan Michalek had a nice toe-drag in the Sabres' zone and scored with 3:14 to go.
It was Johnson's first loss in six decisions.
Tiebreaking goal: After a scrum resulted in two-minute penalties for the Sabres' Marcus Foligno and Toronto's Nazem Kadri, the Leafs took advantage of the four-on-four situation. Buffalo goaltender Chad Johnson stopped a drive by Jake Gardiner, but the rebound went to Connor Carrick in the left circle. He ripped a shot past Johnson with 13:04 to play to make it 2-1.
It was Carrick's third career goal. According to Sportsnet.ca, Carrick went 894 days between his first and second goals but just four days between his second and third.
Another double for Gionta: Sabres captain Brian Gionta scored the only goal of the opening period. It was his 10th of the year, putting him in double digits for the 12th time in his 14 seasons. Hard forechecks by Johan Larsson and Marcus Foligno allowed Gionta to fire into the top corner from the right faceoff dot with 4:31 off the clock.
Nylander strikes again: Leafs fans are giddy about the potential of 19-year-old William Nylander. He showed why late in the second, tying the game at 1-1. The rookie accepted a pass from P-A Parenteau in the slot and wasted no time picking the top corner against Chad Johnson. Nylander, drafted eighth overall in 2014, has three goals in 11 games this season.
Lottery fever: The NHL Draft Lottery will be held April 30, the folks from “Hockey Night in Canada” announced during the game. The 14 teams that fail to make the playoffs are eligible. This year, the first three selections will be drawn via lottery. The 2016 Draft will be held June 24-25 in First Niagara Center.
Milestone game: The Sabres and Leafs faced off for the 200th time during the regular season. The Sabres have a 110-64-26 lead.
Easy first for Sparks: Toronto goaltender Garret Sparks faced just three shots during the opening 20 minutes, with only Gionta, Sam Reinhart and Zach Bogosian putting pucks on the net. Toronto, meanwhile, took 11 shots. Johnson stopped them all. The shot attempts were 24-6 in favor of the Leafs.
Line shake-up: With Eichel out, Cal O’Reilly filled his role as the center for left wing Zemgus Girgensons and Sam Reinhart. Coach Dan Bylsma also changed the first and fourth lines. He moved Matt Moulson up to the No. 1 unit alongside center Ryan O’Reilly and left wing Evander Kane. Nicolas Deslauriers moved down to skate with David Legwand and Dan Catenacci, who was called up from Rochester to take Eichel’s lineup spot.
After two ineffective periods, Moulson and Deslauriers swapped lines.
One and out for Ruhwedel: Defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo returned from a one-game lower-body injury, prompting the Sabres to return Chad Ruhwedel back to Rochester.
Coming out hitting: Larsson registered a game-high six hits during the first period. Kane added four.
Finishing hitting: Toronto's Zach Hyman drilled defenseman Jake McCabe and earned a boarding penalty with 7:55 left. It briefly raised the intensity as Sabres blue-liner Zach Bogosian went after Hyman while Foligno and Parenteau exchanged shoves.
Defense: Bogosian made the defensive play of the night, breaking up a short-handed two-on-one early in the third. He hit the ice to stop a pass between Frederik Gauthier and Jake Gardiner.
Next: The Sabres are scheduled to take Sunday off before returning to practice Monday. For the first time since January, Buffalo has a quiet week featuring only two games. The Sabres visit the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday and host Winnipeg on Saturday. The matinee against the Jets is scheduled to be the first appearance in Buffalo by Tyler Myers and Drew Stafford since they were traded last season.