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Smith, Thompson adding to Sabres' offensive talent pool

TORONTO -- The Buffalo Sabres knew their talent pool of forwards was getting deeper when they mapped it out over the summer. But looking good on paper is one thing.

Seeing it play out on the ice is something else entirely.

The Sabres suffered a 5-3 preseason loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs Friday night in Scotiabank Arena but the game was punctuated by highlight-reel goals from C.J. Smith and Tage Thompson, wingers who are on the bubble to make the NHL club or figure to be key components of the Rochester Amerks to start the season.

Goal scorers don't panic with the puck and both Smith and Thompson were patience personified on their first goals of the preseason.

Smith cut a 3-1 deficit in half at 11:28 of the first period when he took a chip pass from Nicholas Baptiste in the right faceoff circle, cut through the slot past Morgan Rielly -- Toronto's No. 1 defenseman -- and held the puck until he got goalie Garrett Sparks to commit to the ice. By then, Smith had an empty net to flip the puck into.

"[Kevin Porter] was doing a really good job tying up the guy in front," Smith said. "I was able to fake a shot and he went down, I was able to get around and find an empty net. I was surprised on the time I had available. They like to really move and get guys ahead of the play and we were able to catch them on a turnover and get the puck on net."

Smith had 17 goals and 27 assists last year in Rochester, starting hot before injuries slowed the first pro season for the college signee out of Mass-Lowell. He finished tied for the Amerks' team lead in goals.

Thompson got Buffalo even at 3-3 at 6:08 of the second period after swooping in on a loose puck at the Sabres blue line and streaking down the ice with Alexander Nylander on a 2-on-1 break.

Thompson didn't pass, instead toe-dragging the puck around Toronto defenseman Connor Carrick and then rifling a snapshot on the stick side past Leafs goalie Garret Sparks.

The goal reeked of first-round talent. Thompson, remember, was a first-round choice of the St. Louis Blues in 2016 but was sent to Buffalo as part of the Ryan O'Reilly trade in July. He had only three goals in 41 games for the Blues last season and just eight in 30 games for San Antonio of the AHL.

"[Nylander] did a really good job driving that defenseman to the net and making it tough for him to make a decision," Thompson said. "He decided to take the pass away and I waited for him to slide."

"It's great to have the competition," said coach Phil Housley. "Chris Taylor does a great job down in Rochester developing our guys but it's good to see we're scoring more goals."

Thompson was happy to get noticed by the goal but disappointed with his defensive game as he was on the ice for four goals and finished minus-3.

"A lot of the little things you do can be more important to get noticed than scoring," he said. "You have to be strong on 1-on-1 puck battles and get better at them. Today I wasn't good enough there. But you want to show you've got creative ability."

"Especially with the players he was matched up again ... it's great experience and valuable learning you can take to the next game," Housley said. "Try to use that moving forward when you get in the situations, knowing who you're playing against and making the right decisions."

The Wraparound: Maple Leafs 5, Sabres 3

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