Even down captain John Tavares, the Toronto Maple Leafs still boast offensive talent capable of giving the Flyers headaches.
With Tavares out due to injury, two of the remaining three members of the Leafs’ Core Four — composed of Tavares, William Nylander, Auston Matthews, and Mitch Marner — stepped up for the team in their 3-0 win over the Flyers. Winger William Nylander tallied two of the team’s goals and Matthews earned assists on both of them. Ondrej Kase netted a Leafs’ third-period goal.
The Leafs have been sound at controlling play this season. Going into their game against the Flyers, they possessed the sixth-highest Corsi For percentage, used to evaluate a player’s team’s puck possession, in the league (54.3%).
After Nylander’s second-period goal scored off a skate deflection put the Leafs up 1-0, the Flyers didn’t cower. Instead, they sought to regain control, posting a strong period and dominating shots, 12-7. Through three periods, the Flyers registered a 58.76% Corsi For at 5-on-5 which was bolstered by their second-period performance (63.16%), per Natural Stat Trick.
“Five-on-five, I liked our zone time,” coach Alain Vigneault said. “I’d like us to be a little bit quicker at getting pucks to the net, better formation, screening the goaltender, and that second guy in front there a little quicker to get to the loose pucks. But for the most part, we’re generating some good looks 5-on-5.”
Most importantly, the Flyers were unable to turn scoring chances into goals through 60 minutes as Toronto goalie Jack Campbell stopped all 36 shots.
Like the Leafs, the Flyers have seen solid production from their top players — left winger Claude Giroux, center Sean Couturier, and right winger Travis Konecny account for 14 of the team’s 32 goals this season. Going into the game, the Leafs’ Core Four accounted for the last 14 Toronto goals.
Although the injured Tavares was inactive, the Leafs’ core group still provided the Flyers a challenge. The Flyers’ top line occasionally matched up against the Leafs’ top trio of Matthews, Nylander, and left winger Michael Bunting. The two groups traded scoring chances in the second period — a Matthews wraparound and a Giroux drop pass to set up a Konecny shot — but both attempts were covered by their respective netminders.
Nylander eventually capitalized twice, once on the deflection and a second on the power play in the third period.
“They make a lot of plays,” Giroux said. “They support each other well. I think the second and third was a little bit better. But overall, the game, we obviously didn’t play our best. And when they had a chance to score, they were able to put it in.”
Plight of the power play
Through the first 20 minutes, the Flyers earned two man-advantages thanks to Giroux drawing holding against Jason Spezza and tripping against David Kampf. However, the units got off to slow starts as both struggled to set up in the offensive zone against the Maple Leafs’ ninth-ranked power play. On the Spezza infraction, the Flyers managed one shot on goal, saw the zone cleared four times, and even conceded a shorthanded opportunity to Kampf.
The second time around was somehow worse ― the Flyers never put a shot on net. Defensemen Ivan Provorov and Keith Yandle, each on separate units, struggled to keep pucks in at the blue line on two occasions. Vigneault switched up the personnel on the Flyers’ third power play of the night, moving Yandle to the first unit and Provorov to the second unit, however they did not capitalize again.
“I think the first two periods, the power plays we had, we didn’t generate enough offense,” Giroux said. “We definitely didn’t get momentum for the team.”
The Flyers couldn’t score on any of their four power plays against the Leafs. Dating to the start of the western Canada trip on Oct. 27 against the Edmonton Oilers, the Flyers are now 2-for-21 on the power play.
Goalie Carter Hart has had a reputation of raking up the Maple Leafs’ shots and keeping them out of the net over the course of his young career. Over his last two starts against the Leafs, Hart earned two victories and stopped 65 of 70 shots, good for a .929 save percentage. On Wednesday night, despite not earning the win, Hart played well once again, stopping 30 of 33 shots and posting a .909 save percentage.
One of his more impressive saves came in the second period when Yandle turned the puck over behind the Flyers’ net, giving Kampf a prime scoring chance on Hart’s doorstep. However, Hart made a pad save on Kampf’s shot from the slot. Hart also robbed Nylander on a breakaway late in the third period.
“He’s been unbelievable, especially tonight,” Yandle said of Hart. “In one of those games, he was making huge saves. Kept us in it pretty much the whole game. Obviously we weren’t able to get any for him, but he did his job and he’s been ... both guys [Hart and Martin Jones] have been awesome all year.”
The Flyers have back-to-back road games starting Friday when they take on the Carolina Hurricanes at 7 p.m. (NBC Sports Philadelphia).