The Flyers will try to push their winning streak to a season-high five games Tuesday night.
Their obstacle as they open a three-game homestand? A Toronto Maple Leafs team that has looked revived since Sheldon Keefe replaced the fired Mike Babcock as head coach, going 4-1 and outscoring opponents, 20-11, after the change.
The Flyers also have been rejuvenated, equaling a franchise record for points (24) in November and leading the NHL in points for the month. They went 10-2-4 in November.
“We’ve been just focusing on a one-game-at-a-time mentality,” coach Alain Vigneault said after practice Monday in Voorhees. “ … That’s been our mindset, and I think it keeps the guys in the moment.”
The Flyers are 1-0-1 against the Leafs this season, dropping a 4-3 decision in an 11-round shootout — the second-longest in franchise history — on Nov. 2 at the Wells Fargo Center, and winning a 3-2 shootout in Toronto on Nov. 9.
Goalie Brian Elliott played both those games for the Flyers, but Carter Hart will be in the nets Tuesday.
Flyers center Kevin Hayes, who has four of his eight goals over the last six games, called the Leafs an elite team.
“The forwards there may be the best in the league,” said Hayes, referring to a group headed by Auston Matthews, John Tavares, William Nylander, and the injured Mitch Marner. “You have to play the right way defensively, and you have to attack their weaknesses. We’ll watch film [Tuesday] at the rink and figure out what that is. They’re a fun team to play. You have to bring your best, and if you don’t, they can exploit you.”
“They’re coming off a coaching change, and they’ve been playing pretty well since then,” defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said. “I think for us, we just have to keep it simple. They’re a real highly skilled team, and they feed off one another. I think if we just stick to our game, we should be good.”
Babcock was fired Nov. 20 after the Maple Leafs lost their sixth straight game and fell to 9-10-4. Keefe was promoted after coaching the Toronto Marlies, the Leafs’ AHL affiliate, for four-plus seasons.
At practice Monday, Gostisbehere rotated on the third pairing. Vigneault is unsure if Gostisbehere, Phil Myers, or Robert Hagg will sit Tuesday.
As for the future, “there’s probably going to be a rotation there,” Vigneault said.”You don’t expect players to be happy when you tell them they’re not playing, but at the same time, this is a team game and we have decisions to make that we feel are in the team’s benefit. They’re not easy, and it’s never fun to tell a player he’s not playing, but we have to look at the overall situation and do what’s best for the team.”
Toronto is averaging 3.29 goals per game and allowing 3.21, while the Flyers are averaging 3.04 per game and allowing 2.70 (sixth in the NHL entering Monday). … Elliott appeared to injure his right hand when hit by a Sean Couturier shot at practice. He skated to the boards and kicked them in disgust. After being examined by trainer Jim McCrossin, Elliott returned to the ice, and he later called it a “stinger” and said he was fine. …
Center Morgan Frost, shifted to the fourth line in the third period Saturday in Montreal, will be back with Claude Giroux and Travis Konecny on Tuesday, Vigneault said. … In five games under Keefe, the Leafs’ power play has clicked at 37.5% and its penalty kill has been successful on 90% of its chances. Even with the improvement, the Leafs’ PK is just 28th in the league (75% success rate), while the Flyers are No. 3 (85.7%). … Nolan Patrick (migraine disorder) again skated before practice. ... Former Flyers coach Dave Hakstol remained a Toronto assistant after Babcock’s dismissal.