After piecing together their first three-game winning streak of the season, the Toronto Maple Leafs look to make it four-in-a-row in a rematch against the Philadelphia Flyers tonight on HNIC (7 p.m. ET, CBC).
The game last Saturday night in Philadelphia was an up-and-down 4-3 Toronto win that took 21 attempts in the shootout to decide; the Leafs started hot and then were really uninspiring in the final 45 minutes against a tired Flyers team, but the ugly win got this current winning streak started. Both teams won their Tuesday and Thursday games following that matchup — the Leafs with 3-1 and 2-1 (OT) wins against the Kings and Knights, and the Flyers with 4-1 and 3-2 (OT) wins against the Habs and Hurricanes, respectively.
While the Flyers likely aren’t contenders this year, they’re not total pretenders, either. The Flyers offensive output has been solid (16th in CF/60 and 6th in xGF/60, 11th in GF/60) and they have gotten their biggest contributions from their best players: The Flyers top five forwards in xGF/60 are Couturier, Lindblom, Van Riemsdyk, Konecny, and Giroux, while Toronto’s top five are Spezza, Matthews, Nylander, Johnsson, and Mikheyev, with Tavares, Marner, and Kapanen are further down the list.
The Flyers’ penalty kill has been a strong suit thus far; they’ve allowed the second-fewest overall shot attempts per 60 minutes and sit first in scoring chances against on the PK. They haven’t relied too much on veteran penalty killers like Sean Couturier, Justin Braun, and Matt Niskanen, either, as Travis Sanheim, Oskar Lindblom, and Ivan Provorov have all pulled big minutes down a man as well.
Relative to last year, the Tavares-Marner combo has taken the most obvious dip in performance. They’ve been alright offensively at 5-on-5, but they certainly haven’t stacked up to last year defensively. It’s key for the Leafs to have that line going as they take a huge brunt of both the offensive load and matchup duties when the team is healthy. With Zach Hyman looking like he might return next week, the lineup will get its regular LW back relatively soon, but it’ll be hard to expect much of Hyman right away after his long journey back. It looks like Tavares is still finding his way since returning from his finger injury, although a big OT winner on Thursday night should hopefully be a pick-me-up for the Leafs captain.
Despite not starting in both wins for the Flyers this week and losing his last three starts, it will be Brian Elliot in net for Philadelphia tonight. The underlying numbers for the Flyers goaltending duo have been underwhelming, with neither goalie making it easy to pick a starter most of the time. They’re both a bit below average in save percentage so far at .902 for Elliot and .891 for Hart; and the same goes for GSAx, where Elliot has saved -1.02 fewer goals than expected and Hart -2.47 fewer than expected.
For the Leafs, Andersen will start tonight as it looks like he’s gotten hot post-October once again. A hot stretch from Andersen is massive for the Leafs as they look to ameliorate their defensive shortcomings over the first 17 games.
Game Day Quotes
Mitch Marner on the penalty kill and remaining disciplined:
Let’s hope we’re not in box five times again tonight. We’ve been taking a lot of penalties. We’ve talked about it all the time, but we’ve got to start really managing our stick positioning and staying out of the box.
I said it the other day: Our kill does a good job if we’re three or under. Usually, when we get to that fourth or fifth penalty, teams start realizing what to do and how to beat you. It’s hard on the kill and it’s hard on everyone. Last time we played [the Flyers], they did a good job against us, so we want to be better tonight and make sure we come ready.
Mike Babcock on Travis Dermott:
Dermy is the last player to come back. He’s got to earn the confidence of [Dave Hakstol]. He’s got to earn his own confidence. He’s got to sort things out good. What you guys see and what we see are obviously different in terms of what we’re looking for. I think he’s doing a good job and going in the right direction. We like what Holl has done. We like who Dermy is and now we’ve got to get him to that. But anyone who’s missed any time… As you can see, it’s a hard league.
Babcock on what he likes from the team in their recent wins:
Freddy sticking the course and not getting in your own way I think would be the big key. I think we’ve been good in all three games at times. I thought the last game was a higher level game than any of the games [last week] — [the Knights] are a good, good team. We stayed the course and got it done. There was a ton of special teams time. I thought our penalty kill was really rewarded.
I just like the fact that our guys seem to be enjoying each other more and getting to know each other better. We have more energy as a group and seem to be playing better.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#18 Andreas Johnsson – #34 Auston Matthews – #88 William Nylander
#42 Trevor Moore – #91 John Tavares – #16 Mitch Marner
#65 Ilya Mikheyev – #15 Alexander Kerfoot – #24 Kasperi Kapanen
#41 Dmytro Timashov – #33 Frederik Gauthier – #26 Nick Shore
#44 Morgan Rielly – #83 Cody Ceci
#8 Jake Muzzin – #94 Tyson Barrie
#23 Travis Dermott – #3 Justin Holl
#31 Frederik Andersen (starter)
#30 Michael Hutchinson
Scratched: Jason Spezza
Injured: Zach Hyman
Matthews – Tavares – Marner
Kerfoot – Moore – Nylander
Philadelphia Flyers Projected Lines
#25 James van Riemsdyk – #28 Claude Giroux – #49 Joel Farabee
#23 Oskar Lindblom – #14 Sean Couturier – #11 Travis Konecny
#12 Micheal Raffle – #13 Kevin Hayes – #93 Jakub Voracek
#81 Carsen Twarnyski – #50 German Rubtsov – #18 Tyler Pitlick
#9 Ivan Provorov – #15 Matt Niskanen
#53 Shane Gostisbehere – #61 Justin Braun
#6 Travis Sanheim – #61 Philippe Myers
#37 Brian Elliot (starter)
#79 Carter Hart
Injured: Nolan Patrick, Scott Laughton, Morgan Frost