New look: Low risk, low reward: The Flyers scored the game's first goal in Tuesday night's 4-2 victory over Toronto on their third shot. At the time, Toronto had two shots.
Both teams have surged recently due to more responsible defensive play. In surging towards the top rung of the Eastern Conference, the Maple Leafs have become the Kings of 1-goal games. (get it, Kings?… Oh never mind).
Ten of their 20 victories were by that margin, including their last three.
"We've shown we can play in those tight checking, low-scoring games," Toronto's James van Riemsdyk, the former Flyer, was saying after Tuesday's morning skate. "Those are the kind of games you want to play and win if you want to have success in the spring."
The Flyers too, after a dismal 10-game winless stretch marked by repeatedly mind-boggling self-inflicted mistakes, tightened their game in narrow road wins over Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver. Beyond leaning more heavily on a 1-2-2 alignment than before, the Flyers became exclusively a dump and run team, a trait on display during that first period and throughout the game.
Who says faceoffs aren't important? The Flyers first goal came on a clean offensive zone faceoff win by Sean Couturier that slid like a tee shot to Claude Giroux, who fired it past Toronto's Frederik Anderson. Couturier's winning goal with just under three minutes left began with Couturier winning a defensive-zone draw and finishing off a fortuitous neutral zone turnover.
Otherwise, a large percentage of their opportunities came by flipping it in past the red line and creating turnovers down low.
It wasn't pretty hockey. But for a team trying to find its footing after that 10-game winless streak, not a bad way to go.
Toronto won its previous game (against Edmonton) by making a goal scored in the opening minute stand in a 1-0 victory. It was the first time that had occurred in the Leafs history according to Elias Sports Bureau.
The Flyers aren't there yet, as they proved 27 seconds later when Patrick Marleau pounced on a turnover and, with the Flyers defense chasing, fired a shot through Brian Elliott's stick side armpit to tie the game. But holding one of the NHL's better teams – albeit one without Auston Matthews — to single-digit shot counts each period is trending the right way.
Elliott was due an off night after last week's three victories, in which he played well enough to earn the NHL's third star of the week. The Flyers goaltender had a 1.67 goals against average and .954 save percentage over those wins. He allowed five goals on 108 shots. At the midpoint last night, he had faced 10.
No.11 though was his best of the night, robbing Josh Leivo on a breakaway try with a quick glove in the second period to keep the game tied at 1 at the time.
The name sounds familiar – as does the stat: Traded for Luke Schenn back in 2012, James van Riemsdyk haunted his old haunts Tuesday night with the go-ahead goal on a second-period power play.
"It's always nostalgic when I come back," he had said beforehand. "I've got some good memories from playing here and living here for a few years. You remember certain things when you take the walk down the hallway."
Beyond the obvious, the goal was irksome on two other fronts. One, It snapped the Flyers four-game streak of not allowing a power-play goal, after surrendering at least one in seven straight games prior to that.
Two, the power play came as a result of a Jake Voracek trip in the offensive zone, a few minutes after Claude Giroux had been bear-hugged while trying to reach a puck in front, and after Wayne Simmonds caught a high stick off a clearing pass. Both pled their case to referee Brad Watson to no avail, as did Voracek.
Voracek leads the Flyers in points (37) and is on pace for a 100-ppint season, but his detractors often point to the unnecessary penalties he takes. Like that one.