Could Nikolai Kulemin develop into a legitimate scoring threat for the Leafs?
It may be too early to tell, but his two goals helped the Leafs trim the Buffalo Sabres 5-4 at Air Canada Centre Monday night.
His first at 8:36 of the second period was a dandy piece of stick handling, as he sent Mike Weber to the ice, deked around Andrej Sekera, and blistered a quick wrist shot by Patrick Lalime.
“He’s got a great shot,” head coach Ron Wilson said. “And a great release too.”
Kulemin’s second of the night at 11:00 of the third period was the game winner. He followed up on the play and one-timed a bouncing puck between the arm and body of Sabres’ backup Jhonas Enroth.
Wilson thinks Kulemin is developing the confidence because he knows what his strength’s are and he plays to them. Basically, he doesn’t try to do too much.
“He’s shooting the puck more,” Wilson said. “He doesn’t over handle it. He gives it to the puck carrier and drives his feet.”
Obviously Wilson likes what he sees but he did caution one thing.
“Hopefully, these just aren’t goals in pre-season,” Wilson said. “I hope they continue in the regular season.”
Phil Kessel had two goals and Clarke MacArthur added two assists for Toronto [2-2-1].
Derek Roy and Drew Stafford had three points each for the Sabres [1-1-0].
Buffalo opened the scoring with a power-play goal at 4:00 of the first period when Stafford threw a puck between the legs of Jonas Gustavsson for his first goal of the exhibition season.
Roy got the puck at the goal-line to the left of Gustavsson, where Luke Schenn came to pressure him. There was no back-side support for Schenn, leaving Stafford was alone at the top of the crease. He took the Roy pass, spun and slid the puck under the right leg of Gustavsson.
Two goals by the Leafs
Toronto [2-2-1] tied the game 1:45 later when Kessel banged home a rebound on the man advantage.
Dion Phaneuf ripped a slapshot from the right point but Lalime couldn’t squeeze the rebound, allowing Kessel to sweep the puck into the empty net for his third goal of the pre-season.
The Leafs went 1-1 with the man advantage and allowed two goals in four power play chances for the Sabres.
Kessel gave the Leafs a 2-1 lead with over five minutes left in the first after a failed two-on-one.
Lalime stopped Kris Versteeg but he couldn’t snag the rebound and the puck went back to Versteeg. He slid the puck across the low slot to a wide-open Kessel for the easy redirect.
Back and forth middle period
Buffalo tied the game at 2-2 at 3:38 of the middle period on another power-play goal. Nathan Gerbe pounded home a rebound off a nice solo effort from Roy.
Roy sent Francois Beauchemin the wrong way at the Leafs blue-line before forcing Gustavsson to make the save. The puck bounced through a maze of legs to the high slot, where Gerbe found the top of the net with a slapshot.
Toronto regained the lead at 8:36 of the second, as Kulemin beat Lalime from the low slot, after sending a pair of Sabres packing with some nifty stick work.
Lalime stopped 18 shots on the night. He was replaced by Enroth with 9:55 remaining in the second.
The Sabres tied the game at 3-3 with 4:49 remaining in the second period when Jordan Leopold’s wrist shot deflected off Tim Brent and by a helpless Gustavsson.
More scoring in the third
Toronto took a 4-3 lead with 10:05 left in the third period when Christian Hanson scored his first of the pre-season, beating Enroth from the top of the slot with a slapper that found its way through a maze of bodies.
Kulemin scored his second of the game, and fourth of the pre-season, 55 seconds later when he slammed a bouncing puck past a screened Enroth.
Enroth stopped 15 shots in the loss.
Buffalo cut the lead to 5-4 with 7:52 remaining in the third on a penalty shot goal by Gerbe, as Schenn lost a foot race and had to put his stick across the body of the Sabres’ winger forcing the call. buffalo couldn’t score the equalizer, however, as the Leafs held on for the win in regulation.
Gustavsson went the distance, stopping 35 shots.