By Stan Smith
Let’s not get too excited here. The Toronto Maple Leafs won a game they should have won. The Flyers were on the end of a back-to-back with travel and playing a goalie that is still looking for this first NHL win. But, this is just the type of game the Maple Leafs have been losing of late.
We don’t use the word “Great” in the title of these reports. If we did, what John Tavares did tonight would go under that heading. We’ve been waiting for Auston Matthews to lift this team on his back and play the type of dominant game he is capable of. Instead, it was Tavares who did it in this game.
A Tavares hat trick and a four-point night, that included a highlight-reel goal, and a little luck, was just what the Maple Leafs needed.
Tavares started the night by receiving a Mitch Marner pass behind the Flyers’ net on the power play and finding Matthews in front of the net. After being stopped on his first attempt, Matthews knocked in his own rebound to tie the game at one, three and half minutes after the Flyers opened the scoring.
On his first goal, at the end of a long shift where Tavares, William Nylander, and Alex Kerfoot were buzzing in the Flyer’s end, Tavares gets dumped out near the blue line. As he’s picking himself up, Nylander corrals the puck and saucers a pass in Tavares’ direction. Tavares winds up and one-times the puck bar down into the net.
Tavares’ second goal was a thing of beauty. Taking a pass from the exiting Marner, Taveres enters the Flyers’ zone along the right boards, skates towards the corner, turns Flyer’s defenseman Travis Sanheim inside out with a nifty stick handle, and skates past the net, before going backhand to forehand coming out from behind the net to beat Felix Sandstrom far side.
The hat-trick goal to cap off the night was a power-play marker to beat a one-legged Sandstrom. The reason I say one-legged was because, during the play, Sandstrom lost his skate blade. He valiantly tried to push himself with his bladeless skate from his left to his right to cover the net but failed to move an inch. Tavares took a pass from Matthews at the right faceoff circle, turned, and fired it into the net.
This was precisely the type of performance the Maple Leafs needed from someone in the lineup. It couldn’t have come at a better time.
Maple Leafs Find Their Offense
For the first time this season, the Maple Leafs scored five goals in a game. Matthews, Marner, and Morgan Rielly all had two-point games. After scoring just once in his first seven games, Matthews now has three goals in his last four. Sound familiar?
Zach Aston-Reese had his best game as a Maple Leafs’ player scoring his first goal and coming within a post of having two. Victor Mete got his first point as a Maple Leaf.
Sneaky Good Home Record
Despite all of the problems the Maple Leafs have had in the early going this season, amongst all of the bad games they have played they have put together a home record of four wins and one loss.
This is not really bad but I had to find something to write about in this section. Ilya Samsonov played a decent game. He went coast-to-coast to make a terrific toe save on Tony DeAngelo on a Flyers’ two-on-one right off of the opening faceoff to start the third period. He also stopped 23 of the 25 shots he faced in the game, only giving up two goals over the sixty minutes.
I didn’t think he looked particularly sharp in this game though. The Flyers’ second goal that made the score three-two Maple Leafs in the third period was one he should have had. That goal gave the Maple Leafs an oh-no “here-we-go-again” moment before Tavares scored his one-man-show goal to restore the Maple Leafs’ two-goal lead.
Samsonov seemed to be fighting the puck the whole game. There were several saves Samsonov seemed to make look a lot more difficult than they should have been. He seemed to be a bit deep in his net and wasn’t challenging the shooters as he has in past games.
But, he was good enough to get the win. I am sure the Maple Leafs’ new goalie department will have videos showing Samsonov how to clean things up.
Here I am once again putting the referees in this category. I’m getting to the point where I can’t figure out what the referees are going to call and not call. This game had a lot of clutching and grabbing, sticks to the hands and body, and numerous obvious pick plays.
By my estimate, the referees maybe called 30 percent to 40 percent of the infractions that I observed in the game. How, in all of that, they could pick five penalties in a row on the Maple Leafs, four of them in the second period, is beyond me. I’m not saying they weren’t legitimate calls. Some were very borderline though, and not as bad as some of the calls they missed.
I have watched this game being played for over 50 years. Maybe my memory is wrong, but I can remember a time I could tell when a penalty was going to be called. Now I don’t have a clue half the time.
The Maple Leafs will get some reinforcements and more roster options on the backend for the weekend with the return to action of Timothy Liljegren and Jamie Benn. Hopefully, Liljegren can pick up where he left off last season.
The Mape Leafs will need extra bodies this weekend as they play back-to-back at home Saturday against the team that has the best start to the season at 9-1, the Boston Bruins. They travel to Carolina for an early Sunday game versus the 6-2-1 Hurricanes.
They then return home Tuesday to take on the hot 9-2 Golden Knights.
These three games are going to be a real test for the Maple Leafs. They could go a long way toward calming the stormy waters that the team has been attempting to negotiate in the early going of this season.