Jack Campbell, Toronto Maple Leafs

The Maple Leafs won with their B- effort in Philadelphia on Saturday night, riding an opportunistic offense, a strong performance from Jack Campbell in his return to the crease, and yet another shorthanded goal to a 6-3 victory.

Your game in 10:

1.   With the completely-unreliable Petr Mrazek now something of an afterthought for the rest of the season due to another long-term groin injury, by far the most important aspect of this game was always going to be the performance of Jack Campbell in his first game back in the net. In that regard, this game was a positive step forward.

It was a .906 performance on the stat sheet, but there wasn’t anything he could do about any of the three Flyers goals, and most importantly, Campbell looked like the 2021 version of himself while keeping the score tied early, including a sprawling glove save on Morgan Frost just one minute into the game. The Leafs didn’t exactly ease him in with their play for the first two periods, which might not have been a bad thing in a way — Campbell got to feel the puck early and seemed to find his groove quickly in this game.

He opened and closed his first period in nearly a month with some big saves. With 10 seconds left in the period, Campbell turned aside a scoring chance for Oskar Lindblom, and he was in position on the second opportunity for Travis Konecny (who fired wide) to keep it at 0-0 entering the second period.

He also needed to be sharp to end the second period to keep the game tied at 2-2 as the Leafs were again sloppy closing out the period. Throughout the game, he was sharp reading the play, handled the puck outside of his crease better than he was before the injury, and didn’t give up much in terms of rebound opportunities.

Just one start, but it’s an important first step.

2.   The team’s best line by far in a mostly-forgettable first half of the game was the Pierre Engvall – David Kampf – William Nylander trio that generated the Leafs’ first good chance five minutes in and buzzed inside of the offensive zone on many of their shifts.

After a bland shift from the top line to start the second period, the third line came over the boards and generated the Leafs’ first good chance of the middle frame also. On their next shift in the middle frame, in response to the Flyers’ 1-0 goal four minutes into the period, the line went out and put together a hard-working shift where they were buzzing the Flyers’ net, ending in Engvall drawing a holding penalty.

The Leafs’ power play didn’t score on the subsequent man advantage, but it possessed the puck inside the zone for nearly the full two minutes and generated plenty of looks and momentum — that all started with the effort from the Nylander line in response to the goal against.

3.   On the surface, it may seem like a strange fit for William Nylander on that line (and I’m not necessarily suggesting that the Leafs’ optimal look up front includes Nylander centered by Kampf), but Pierre Engvall and Nylander, in particular, have had several positive games building chemistry together. When the two are at full flight on the rush, they can get in behind the defense or back the defense off with their speed. They also had a number of good moments applying puck pressure when forechecking and backchecking, where they were able to force turnovers and create offensive opportunities from them, in addition to linking up nicely a few times off of the cycle.

These past few games have been by far the most engaged Nylander has looked in the past month without the puck, and combined with Engvall’s efforts (and David Kampf’s dependable support play), it has led to some quality zone time and chances for this line at 5v5.

The famously inconsistent (in seasons past) Engvall has been stringing together runs of consecutive games where he is a consistent force driving play north with his puck transportation as well as his forechecking and cycling, in addition to his contributions on the penalty kill, where he scored a shorthanded goal that showed off an underrated weapon of his: a hard and accurate shot.

4.  The Leafs tied the game at 1-1 right around the midway point of the game after catching the Flyers sleeping on a line change during a called-off icing. TJ Brodie sprung Wayne Simmonds free on a breakaway that Simmonds got a bit of luck finishing off for his first goal in 33 games.

To my eye this season, Brodie has been more of a factor offensively with stretch passes that have sent Leafs attackers in alone or sprung odd-man rushes; it’s good to see him contributing a little more in this area after he was really quiet offensively last season (while bringing a ton of defensive value, to be clear). It’s particularly notable that he’s chipping in a little more offensively knowing he’s currently playing on a pairing with Justin Holl and not Morgan Rielly, with whom he provides the safety valve that supports Rielly’s offensive exploits.

At even strength, Brodie is up to four goals and seven primary assists after recording just one goal and three primary assists last season. If we look at the defensemen that played more than 900 minutes last season, Brodie was bottom five and bottom 10 in goals per 60 and primary assists per 60, respectively; this season, he’s middle of the pack in both categories.

5.   Overall, it wasn’t Auston Matthews’ sharpest game over 200 feet, as he was out to lunch in front of his own net on the first two Flyers goals. I think I would’ve gone in a different direction with the starting line for the final frame (if not the second period) after the top line didn’t seem to have its usual stuff and started each period a little bit flat.

Of course, this line can change a game in an instant with a moment or two of brilliance, and that’s exactly what happened in the third period. Matthews’ 50th goal was scored into an empty net, and so was his 51st, only the Flyers hadn’t pulled their goalie for this one. Mitch Marner patiently and surgically sliced through the Flyers defense, froze the goaltender, and handed Matthews one of his easiest goals of the year on a pass from behind the net for the 3-2 go-ahead goal.

6.  After the Flyers narrowed the lead to one at 4-3, the top line also switched it on for a shift leading to the Morgan Rielly goal that all but put the game away at 5-3. That’s Rielly’s third goal and ninth point in his last four games. Safe to say he’s heating back up after his zero-goals-and-seven-points-in-17-game stretch.

In a similar vein, coming off of a 14-game goalless drought, John Tavares is now up to seven goals and 15 points in his last 14 after his 6-3 snipe that sealed the game.

7.   When you don’t have your best stuff at 5v5, it certainly helps to have a penalty kill that is consistently outplaying power plays and generating chances (and goals) galore of late. Over the last two weeks (seven games), the Leafs’ PK has four goals for and five goals against. And it’s not some unsustainable shooting percentage bender that has them leading the league with 12 shorthanded goals. Over the course of the season, the Leafs’ shot attempts for, scoring chances for, and expected goals for generation at 4v5 are leaps and bounds above the next best team.

The best chance of the Flyers’ first-period power-play went to Pierre Engvall and Ilya Mikheyev, who nearly connected on a backdoor play on a 2v1. On the Flyers’ third-period power play, the Leafs grabbed the game-winner right at the end of the PK via Engvall’s goal off the rush.

The team has multiple forward-pair combinations that can burn the opposing PK with their speed the other way, allowing them to keep the aggressive puck pressure and transition threat alive over the full two minutes; the Flyers were gassed at the end of their power play, and Engvall simply coasted down the ice and ripped it far side.

8.   That is two games in a row where the Leafs capped a high-scoring win (7-3 and 6-3) with a fight at the end of the game that their combatant won handily — first, it was Kyle Clifford beating up Brendan Dillon against Winnipeg (a rematch from their Dec. 5 bout), and tonight it was Wayne Simmonds getting the better of Zack MacEwen after the two nearly squared off early in the game (the refs jumped in and broke it up before it started).

I am not here to blow it out of proportion and it obviously has to be kept in perspective in terms of the actual win-loss impact, but there is something to be said for beating a team on the scoreboard and capping it with a win in the alley to settle a score; it probably adds a little swagger to the group and makes everyone skate a little bit taller.

9.   Not a ton to dissect about Nick Abruzzese’s nine minutes of ice time tonight in what was mostly a forgettable night for his line with Colin Blackwell and Wayne Simmonds. After one relatively harmless turnover early in the game, Abruzzese completed a few passes throughout the game to continue sequences on the breakout, and he didn’t make any errors of note in terms of missed assignments defensively. All in all, a non-descript first taste of NHL action for the Harvard product, who had zeros across the board on the game sheet.

10.   This was just the third game this season in which the Leafs lost the Corsi battle in all three periods of play, but they turned it on in the third period, generated some big shifts and scoring chances, and took full advantage of their opportunities to claim the two points.

Sheldon Keefe’s reflections after the game suggested the players thought they could switch it on intermittently and win this game; they were proven right about that, which is probably why Keefe was harsh in his public assessment of the performance — a bit of extra vigilance around any complacency setting in at this time of year.

The level of urgency is rising with just a dozen or so games left to play, and the Leafs need to bring their best stuff for this big back-to-back against Florida and Tampa on Monday-Tuesday. 

Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Game Highlights: Leafs 6 vs. Flyers 3