The Toronto Maple Leafs had some good moments and disappeared at times in their first meeting with the Philadelphia Flyers, but were able to break their two-game losing skid, as Andreas Johnsson beat Brian Elliott in the shootout to give the Leafs a 4-3 victory at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday.
Kasperi Kapanen, Jason Spezza, and Mitch Marner scored in regulation for Toronto, and Spezza and Johnsson converted in a team record 11-round shootout for the victory, while Frederik Andersen made 37 saves and stopped 10 Philly attempts for his seventh win of the season.
The Leafs had the advantage of playing a Flyers squad in the second of back-to-back games and that showed in the first, as Toronto outshot Philly 10-1 and took the early lead on Kapanen’s fourth of the season, but their not-so-special teams allowed the Flyers to climb back into the game.
A too-many-men penalty resulted in Ivan Provorov’s power-play tying goal late in the first, and Spezza’s holding penalty led to Claude Giroux’s go-ahead goal early in the middle frame. The Leafs could not get on track in the second, as Philadelphia outshot them 16-7 and had the better of the play, but Toronto responded late in the period as the Flyers did in the first, with Spezza scoring his first of the season on a mad scramble in front of Elliott.
Toronto once again displayed a bit of sluggishness to begin the third, as William Nylander’s lax defensive play allowed Travis Sanheim to go around him and score past Andersen to give the Flyers the lead, but the Leafs tied the game on a nice individual effort by Marner, who flew by Matt Niskanen and scored on a wraparound.
The Leafs gave Philadelphia six power play opportunities, including a full two-minute 4-on-3 in overtime, and were outshot 8-2 in the extra frame before going to the shootout. Something that Leafs head coach Mike Babcock has railed against previously and brought up again after the game.
“We've talked about this, right? So, if I talk to (the media) about it, you can bet we've talked about it and we'll continue to talk about it.” Babcock said. “When we took the three penalties in a row, we got off-kilter and got on our heels. I didn't think we really, to be honest with you, got our game back. You've got to play longer and harder than the other team and we were unable to do that. We get ourselves a win, so we feel good about the win. We're set up with a good week here this week. We've got to take some steps. The guys know that, I know that and we've got to do a better job.”
In spite of a pair of minor penalties, Spezza had his best performance as a Leaf against the Flyers, assisting on Kapanen’s goal and pushing the puck just over the goal line for his first goal since February, but it is unknown whether that will earn him more playing time with the impending return of John Tavares on Tuesday.
“With [Tavares] out, it's a different scenario. (Jason) is trying to do what he can to help out any way he can.” Babcock said. “The thing I think he brings the most is he loves hockey. What's he doing at the rink? Sometimes he's a fourth line guy, sometimes he's scratched.
Why the heck would he come to the rink? He loves hockey, wants to be around the guys. He loves it. What you do is you show the people how much you love hockey and your passion for the game and I think that's great.”
In spite of registering four shots on goal, Nylander did not have a strong night and was taken off the top line in favor of Dmytro Timashov after his lack of attentiveness on Sanheim’s goal. The 23-year-old has nine points (3 goals, six assists) in 15 games and most of those can be attributed to playing with Matthews.
Nylander is currently scoring at a 49-point pace (which is just marginally better than his production in the impasse-shortened 2018-19 campaign) and to this point has not shown enough growth in his game.
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