Toronto Maple Leafs left winger Alexei Ponikarovsky (23) leaps to screen Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller (30) during first period NHL action in Toronto on Thursday January 1, 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
TORONTO - Jason Pominville and Derek Roy received the message loud and clear.
Just 48 hours after being called out by coach Lindy Ruff, the linemates scored two goals apiece to lead the visiting Buffalo Sabres over the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-1 in NHL action on Thursday night.
Ruff was upset after Buffalo lost to the visiting Washington Capitals 4-2 on Tuesday and said after that game that "if Jochen Hecht and Derek Roy and those kinds of guys aren't our best players, (we) don't have any chance of winning."
Suffice to say, the Buffalo coach was happier with the efforts of his team's "best players" against Toronto.
"We were hard on a lot of plays and there wasn't much to dislike," Ruff said. "Special teams were good, our counter-attacks were good, we made it easy on our defenceit was a big improvement from the other night."
"We need (Pominville), we need (Roy). They were better ... but we need them. There's no secret. We need them to be our best players."
Roy added an assist for a three-point effort, while Sabres wingers Thomas Vanek and Drew Stafford each had two assists in front of 19,176 fans at Air Canada Centre.
Roy said he wasn't immediately aware of Ruff's previous comments, but that he agreed with his coach.
"It's funny, I didn't hear the (Ruff) interview after the game and I know he said our best players weren't our best players and I totally agree with him," Roy said. "I'm gonna go out every night and prove I'm the best player on the ice. I just have to work hard at it and work hard with my teammates."
Rookie centre John Mitchell, with his third goal of the season, provided the lone offence for the Leafs (15-17-6), who lost for the fourth time in five games.
After Sabres goalie Ryan Miller denied a Niklas Hagman penalty shot late in the first period, Buffalo (18-15-5) scored three times in less than five minutes in the middle of the second period to break open the New Year's Day tilt between the Northeast Division rivals.
"I think if we'd have found a way to break the ice in the first period with some of the chances we had on the power play, and obviously the chance leading up to the penalty shot and the penalty shot, it might've been a different outcome," said Leafs coach Ron Wilson. "We didn't capitalize on our chances and they capitalized on all of theirs."
Pominville now has three goals in three games after scoring just once in his previous 17 contests. The 26-year-old right winger, who scored 27 goals last season and 34 times in 2006-07, has 12 goals in 38 games this year.
Miller wasn't overly busy, but rose to the challenge when called upon. After stopping Hagman's penalty shot at the 19-minute mark of the first period, the Sabres goalie denied Dominic Moore on a last-minute breakaway in the second period to preserve Buffalo's 3-0 lead.
Miller finished with 27 saves.
At the other end, the Leafs' Curtis Joseph made his second consecutive start - he recorded his 450th career NHL victory against Atlanta on Tuesday - and stopped 16 of 20 shots.
Toronto nearly opened the scoring on the power play midway through the first period when Alexei Ponikarovsky's shot from the slot rang off the crossbar and goalpost behind Miller. The Sabres goalie then robbed Nik Antropov and Alexei Ponikarovsky from in close on subsequent rebounds, and then stood tall on Hagman's penalty shot after Roy had closed his hand on the puck in the Sabres crease during a goalmouth scramble.
Hagman attempted to freeze Miller with a deke, but the Sabres goalie lunged with a pokecheck and blocked Hagman's wrist shot with his body to improve to a perfect 8-for-8 on penalty shots in his career.
Pominville opened the scoring at 6:50 of the second period, on the power play, when his high slapshot from the point sailed over Joseph's shoulder. The Leafs goalie was partially screened on the play.
Less than three minutes later, Roy was credited with his first of the game at 9:11 when he drove to the net as Joseph juggled a shot by Vanek. Leafs defenceman Jeff Finger also crashed into the crease, and the puck went in during the ensuing scramble.
Buffalo's third goal in four minutes 39 seconds came when Pominville stole the puck from Antropov in the corner, took a stride and whipped a low wrist shot between Joseph's body and the right goalpost at 11:29.
Roy made it 4-0 for Buffalo at 5:58 of the third period when, from the side of the net, he deposited the puck behind Joseph during a Sabres power play.
Mitchell ended Miller's shutout bid at the 8:29 mark of the third, sliding Jamal Mayers' rebound under the Sabres goalie.
Notes: Joseph, started consecutive games for the first time this season. Toronto's No. 1 goalie, Vesa Toskala, has lost his last three starts, surrendering 14 goals. ... Buffalo was 2-for-4 on the power play while Toronto went 0-for-5. ... Leafs forwards Jeremy Williams (bruised left shoulder) and Matt Stajan (blurred vision) didn't dress. Toronto recalled Jiri Tlusty from the Marlies (AHL) and the 20-year-old left winger skated on a line with Dominic Moore and Jason Blake. Andre Deveaux was a healthy scratch for Toronto as Ryan Hollweg played his second consecutive game after sitting out five in a row. ... Toronto defencemen Luke Schenn (knee) and Mike Van Ryn (concussion) also stayed on the sidelines. Schenn might be back for next Tuesday's game against Florida, but Van Ryn's return is unknown. ... The Sabres beat the visiting Leafs 8-1 on New Year's Day in 2000.