Alexander Mogilny is a very happy man. And it's not just because he single-handedly flattened his former team.
Mogilny had every reason to smile Saturday night. A decade after setting the hearts of Buffalo fans ablaze, Mogilny turned his former team to ashes. He scored once and added two assists in the Toronto Maple Leafs' 3-1 victory over the Sabres in Air Canada Centre.
It was the second time in two meetings with the Sabres this season that Mogilny was the undeniable first star. He scored twice, including the game-winner, in the Leafs' 3-2 victory Nov. 15 in Buffalo.
"Alex is a game-breaker," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "That's two games now where we've played him, and he hasn't missed the opportunity to put the game away."
Mogilny, who holds the Sabres' single-season record with 76 goals in 1992-93, had the overflow crowd of 19,266 gasping nearly every time he touched the puck -- and with good reason. He's Toronto's hottest skater, recording a goal and five assists in the past three games to help the Leafs reach .500 for the first time this season (11-11-2).
"I've done better," Mogilny said with a smile, an expression he kept throughout his extended chat with the media. "I actually feel good now. I feel like I've been lost for a few years, but it's starting to come back again. Just physically feeling good, mentally just feeling good about the game again."
Former teammate Rob Ray noticed.
"He's totally different now," the Sabres winger said. "He's a much more relaxed player. You can tell he's happy. I think before he had a lot on his plate, and a lot of times things that were going on in his life were distracting from what he was doing. Now that he's happy and smiling. He's playing stress-free more than anything. He's having fun with the game, the way he should."
The Sabres, however, still aren't having fun. They fell to 4-14-4-1 and have only one victory in their past 17 games.
"Night to night," Ray said, "you just have to sit and think, 'What happened?' or 'What do we have to do to get through this?' or it's 'Will it ever end? Will we ever win?' It's a lot of things that you think about."
The game-winning goal came in exactly the type of situation Ruff has been pleading with his team to avoid. After Toronto's Robert Svehla and Buffalo's Curtis Brown traded first-period goals, the Sabres came out of the first intermission as if they had bees in their Bauers, swarming the Leafs' zone for the opening two minutes.
But Tim Connolly picked up an interference penalty in Toronto's end at 2:13. Just 30 seconds later, Toronto took advantage. Mogilny received a pass in the right corner and one-timed the puck to Mats Sundin on the left side of the goal crease. Sundin had trouble controlling the puck, but Mogilny blistered it so fast that Sabres goaltender Martin Biron still wasn't able to slide across in time to block the shot.
"We take way too many bad penalties," Ray said. "Stupid penalties, and they're coming back and killing us.
"We just take way too many dumb ones like that. Too undisciplined, and that's something that's a major problem.
"Everybody's playing the same game," Ray added, "and there's certain guys that take them all the time and some guys that never get them. Why aren't the guys getting them? Because they're working. Sometimes it's a lazy penalty."
Brown's goal, midway through the first period, tied the game at 1-1. It came when Miroslav Satan made some nifty moves to carry the puck into the Toronto zone and Taylor Pyatt drove hard to the net to distract goalie Ed Belfour. But that was the only time Belfour -- who had three shutouts in his previous five games -- was beaten. He made 19 saves, while Biron stopped 23 of 26 shots.
Seven minutes into the third period, Mogilny walked in alone on Biron and beat him to put the Sabres away.
"This isn't a business where you survive losing," Ruff said.
But Brown says the team will not quit.
"Obviously it's a tough time," he said, " but I've seen other people go through tough times, and the answer isn't to get down."