To paraphrase the immortal Robb Stark (no spoilers please), while one victory over the Flyers does not make a contender, it’s better than a defeat to them.
Going into this game, I was wondering what kind of outcome wouldn’t produce some sort of panic in Toronto. Win by too much you risk making your efforts on the California swing all that more stark. Win by too little and create doubt that you can even handle a team like the Flyers at all.
Make no mistake, the Flyers are not a very good team. Despite coming into the game with a 4-2-2 record (their only regulation losses have come in the second half of back-to-backs this season) the Flyers were also the worst team in the NHL in terms of corsi for percentage. While I was impressed by their defending and their effort in their game against the Canucks earlier this season, the fact remains that they are spending too much time in their defensive zone, not generating a lot of offence, and relying too much on their goaltending and, likely, a style of play that isn’t sustainable physically.
The Leafs did pretty much everything they had to. Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner picked up points, John Tavares had a hat-trick, with his second goal being a candidate for highlight of the night. By my count, they out-chanced Philadelphia 20-4 at 5v5, and 28-12 overall. It wasn’t a strong opponent, but the Leafs put together a pure defensive performance, enough to cover for the fact that Ilya Samsonov let a lot of pucks by him from distance (he benefit from his posts tonight), and for the fact that the forwards still aren’t burying their scoring chances at 5-on-5. As easily as this game could have been 6- or 7-1, it could have just as easily been 3-3 or 4-3 Philadelphia.
It was a game that, mercifully, left no doubt who the better team was. Every skater on the Leafs had far more positive plays than negative ones. The Leafs lined up against a weak opposing team and, for once, played a good game. While the underlying numbers for this team scream “2016-17” far more than they do “2021-22”, I simply look at the roster for the Leafs and know this can be a 50-win team if they tidied up some obvious holes in their game. They were putting pucks towards the net and benefit from chaos. They moved the puck quickly and possessed the puck. They managed it well in the defensive zone. They forechecked well and skated well. The only complaints from the home fans came because a certain defenceman (who otherwise had a great night) mishandled two pucks in the offensive zone late in the second period.
I don’t want to bust out the superlatives or declare this team is fixed. The next games on the schedule are some real tests: Boston, Carolina, Vegas, Pittsburgh are the next four opponents. After a home game against Vancouver, they come right back against Pittsburgh, New Jersey, and Buffalo. With the Vancouver game as the second half of a back-to-back, this is probably as tough of a section of the schedule as you get.
This win bought the Leafs a slight reprieve. They have a tough test Saturday. But until then, let’s break down exactly how dominant of a performance this was:
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