After a poor start precipitated a 5-1 loss to LA on Monday, the Maple Leafs are looking for a bounce-back effort against the 6-2-2 Flyers tonight in Philadelphia (7:30 p.m. EST, Sportsnet).
Justin Holl will make his return to the lineup tonight in the place of Travis Dermott after a tough dash-three performance for the Rielly-Dermott pairing against LA. Stepping back in where he left off next to Jake Muzzin, Holl won’t be eased back into the fold and should see ample ice time against the likes of Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, and Travis Konecny tonight.
It was arguably long overdue knowing Travis Dermott was not going to be a long-term solution on the right side inside the Leafs‘ top four over the length of the season and into the playoffs. The Leafs need Holl to rediscover his form and confidence so they don’t need to slot a Dermott or Liljegren in over their heads, particularly as the latter acclimates (so far, quite nicely) to the league.
This game will also mark the first time Wayne Simmonds returns to Philadelphia as a member of the Maple Leafs. He twice returned to Philly as a member of the New Jersey Devils and once as a Buffalo Sabre, and there were no major fireworks in those games — he produced zero points, zero penalty minutes, and four recorded hits over the three visits to the Wells Fargo Center (he did score against them at home in New Jersey). But he’s surely got money on the board tonight, and hopefully, the Leafs step up with a good performance for him.
The Flyers are off to a 6-2-2 start in large part thanks to elite goaltending numbers in the early going; Martin Jones is 3-0 with a .950 save percentage, while primary starter Carter Hart sports a .926 over seven games. This comes a season after neither Hart or then-1B Brian Elliott were above a .890 in 2020-21, totally torpedoing the Flyers’ playoff chances.
The Flyers are bottom five in expected Goals against per 60; they’re also bottom five in scoring chance share. If those metrics don’t turn around as Ryan Ellis and Kevin Hayes — key pieces on the blue line and down the middle, respectively — work their way back from injury, it doesn’t augur well for future results if and when the goaltending performance cools off.
That said, they’re feeling confident at the moment, and the threats up front are obvious, with Giroux, Konecny, Couturier, and Cam Atkinson all producing well in the early going, in addition to seven points in 10 games from Derick Brassard, who has stepped up down the middle in Hayes’ absence.
Game Day Quotes
Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault on the performance of his goaltenders and the challenge presented by the Leafs:
The consistent factor in the NHL, if you look at the teams that are winning… Take a look at the goalie stats, too. They’re related. Both our guys right now are at the top of their game, which I think just breeds confidence throughout the rest of the lineup.
We are playing against a team that had won their five prior games to the one they lost [against LA]. They were playing extremely well. Their offense was dynamite — the speed, the quickness, and the skill.
I think we just handled a team that has a pretty good offense. We are going to need to duplicate that defensive effort we had in that game and put it on the ice tomorrow. We are going to be challenged in a lot of facets.
Sheldon Keefe on the keys to a better start to tonight’s game:
It is just a matter of the mindset of our team coming out and looking to establish our game right away. We look at the Boston game most recently as one where we thought we were really good in that area. Despite the fact that in that game, we go down 1-0 after the scored on the power play, because you are playing well and are engaged in the game, it doesn’t faze you. You just keep playing, take the lead, and don’t look back.
It’s really about the mindset of our team and just being engaged. That is where we are at as a team: putting together a game against Boston, and then looking to come out and do it again. Where we are at now is looking for a response and to re-establish that again.
Keefe on the coaching staff’s role in preparing the team to start on time:
I am in this with the guys. It is not all on them. I look at what we have done as a staff and what I have done as a head coach to prepare the team, what we have discussed, how our meetings went, the lines we start, and things of that nature. We have moved things around a little bit and we don’t really see a trend there in terms of the starts.
It is a million-dollar question. Coaches are going to beat themselves up over that and sometimes players will, too, just trying to figure it out. Some days you come to the rink, you feel great, and you’re ready to go. Others, you might think you’re feeling great, the puck drops, and you’re in mud and you can’t move.
It is one of those things that we are trying to get right. The players have the responsibility to have themselves prepared, but it is not just on them. It is my job to influence these players and have them ready to play. I hold myself accountable to that just the same. We are asking those questions as a staff.
Keefe on Justin Holl’s return to the lineup:
I just want to see him not overthink it or overdo it. When he is playing well, he is skating offensively and defensively. He is skating and getting in people’s way defensively, he is physical getting plays stopped, and then he’s moving it quickly up the ice to our forwards to get us going on offense.
That is really it — do his job there and do his job on the penalty kill. I know he is excited to play here. He has had to be on the sidelines longer than we thought he might. Circumstances are what they are, but he gets a chance to go back in tonight. Let’s move forward.
Keefe on the lack of point production from the blue line so far:
It’s hard to put a finger on it. I have gone back through a lot of our scoring chances. Our D are involved in a lot of them. We have had some really good looks from our defense and it hasn’t gone in. Some of that is a little bit of bad luck. Some of it is generating consistent point shots and getting pucks to go through.
We have looked at a lot of the defense scoring around the league, and a lot of it is activating a lot in the offensive zone. It is in the rush. Our D are just as active if not more than most teams, yet it hasn’t produced the results that we want in terms of the D getting on the scoresheet.
Some of it is point shots that through getting deflected to go offensively versus getting blocked and then transitioning the other way. There are things for us to look at there, but we are not too worked up on that piece of it. We are more focused on our defense playing defense.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#58 Michael Bunting – #34 Auston Matthews – #88 William Nylander
#15 Alex Kerfoot – #91 John Tavares* – #16 Mitch Marner
#47 Pierre Engvall – #64 David Kampf – #25 Ondrej Kase*
#20 Nick Ritchie – #19 Jason Spezza – #24 Wayne Simmonds
#44 Morgan Rielly – #78 TJ Brodie
#8 Jake Muzzin – #3 Justin Holl
#38 Rasmus Sandin – #37 Timothy Liljegren
Starter: #36 Jack Campbell
#60 Joseph Woll
*Game time decision
Extras: Travis Dermott, Kirill Semyonov
Injured: Ilya Mikheyev, Petr Mrazek
Philadelphia Flyers Projected Lines
#28 Claude Giroux – #14 Sean Couturier – #11 Travis Konecny
#86 Joel Farabee – #19 Derick Brassard – #89 Cam Atkinson
#23 Oskar Lindblom – #21 Scott Laughton – #25 James van Riemsdyk
#9 Patrick Brown – #11 Nate Thompson – #17 Zach MacEwen
#9 Ivan Provorov – #61 Justin Braun
#6 Travis Sanheim – #70 Rasmus Ristolainen
#3 Keith Yandle – #24 Nick Seeler
Starter: #79 Carter Hart
#35 Martin Jones
*Game time decision
Injured: Kevin Hayes, Samuel Morin, Ryan Ellis