A 3-0 deficit proved too much to fully overcome for a Maple Leafs team that couldn’t buy a goal for the first 40 minutes in Philadelphia.

Your game in 10:

1.   Before the game, the Leafs talked about expecting a big push from the Flyers after last week’s result and the scratching of several important veterans (including their captain), but it seems as though believing required seeing.

Despite the Leafs winning the opening draw, the Flyers won a couple of board battles in the neutral and offensive zones before Owen Tippett fired a shot from the top of the circle through traffic past an unsighted Ilya Samsonov for the 1-0 goal just 17 seconds into the game.

Curiously, Sheldon Keefe went with the (short-lived) Matthew KniesJohn TavaresNick Robertson line along with the Joel EdmundsonTimothy Liljegren pairing to start the game against a hungry opponent on the road. Keefe has placed Robertson on the right wing at various points throughout the year, but it often doesn’t seem to put him in the best position to succeed (of the left-shot wingers who can move over when needed, Bobby McMann appears to be the superior choice based on his strength on the wall, play away from the puck, and ability to drive the net on his backhand). The goal was scored on a shot from the top-right quadrant of the ice where Robertson took an awkward route after initially pressuring the point man, and Edmundson couldn’t quite get out in the shooting lane when fronting the shot.

2.   The Leafs settled in for a couple of shifts afterward, but after Keefe completed his first rotation, the Knies – Tavares – Robertson combination went back out for the last time on a neutral-zone faceoff just three minutes into the game.

The same five-man unit that was on the ice for the first goal against gave up a point-blank 2-on-0 off a turnover in the defensive zone where Liljegren was stripped on the wall, Edmundson was caught high in the zone, and Knies and Robertson were switched off defensively after the puck changed hands.

Keefe immediately moved Nylander into Robertson’s spot on the Knies-Tavares line, while Max Domi joined Auston Matthews and Tyler Bertuzzi. The other noteworthy event of the first five minutes was the loss of Ryan Reaves for the night, reducing the Leafs to 11 forwards after Reaves’ fight with Nicolas Deslauriers.

The helmet rule combined with Deslaurier’s visor meant Reaves connected with plastic on a couple of right-handed haymakers, and he left the fight/game with damage to his hand and a swollen shut eye. Combined with the line shuffle already underway in the top nine, it meant the pre-game combinations were never really established and it turned into a total line jumble right away for Keefe.

3.   In the first period, the Leafs hit a couple of posts on nice shots off the rush by Liljegren and McMann. They conceded just one goal despite a post for Cam York — who torched Liljegren off the wall — and another post from Bobby Brink as well as the aforementioned 2-on-0 against.  That was the best you could say about Toronto’s opening frame.

High-danger chances were 71% in Philly’s favour, and while overall possession was more evenly split, the Flyers looked like the more desperate team defending their net front and attacking the Leafs’. Toronto just wasn’t particularly sharp with the puck or competitive enough overall.

4.   The Leafs’ sloppy execution with the puck on their own half of the ice was at its most egregious and costly early in the second period when the Morgan RiellyTJ Brodie pairing again showed why the combination became so untenable this season. Unforced errors had become commonplace with these two, and this one was particularly bad on a routine D-to-D play under single-forechecker pressure that they fumbled repeatedly for an eventual turnover.

Making matters worse, Brodie was scrambling and put himself on the wrong side of Ryan Poehling as the puck switched sides up top. Poehling stayed just on the legal side of goalie interference at the top of the crease as Travis Sanheim ripped in the 2-0 goal.

Ilya Samsonov needed to battle significant traffic on both goals, but you’d like to see him fight through and come up with one save on those first two goals.

5.   The Leafs almost responded immediately when Auston Matthews broke free on a 2-on-1 with Max Domi where he chose to pass and Domi’s shot into an otherwise empty net was blocked wide by Cam York. After a net-front scramble following a William Nylander shot, John Tavares drew a penalty, sending the struggling Leafs power play to work.

Perhaps a little to do with tired legs from the preceding shifts and a little to do with the struggles recently (plus Marner’s absence), the second unit started the power play, and it did not go well. An initial draw loss and clearance were followed by multiple turnovers in the zone (Domi, Knies) which never allowed them to fully set up. The top unit didn’t touch the ice until 1:10 (following a shorthanded threat by the Flyers), and after they did, Nylander fired a shot wide that cleared the zone, more or less ending the power-play opportunity.

Still, the Leafs built sustained pressure afterward with a good Domi-Matthews-Bertuzzi shift followed by more pressure from the Knies-Tavares-Nylander line, including Tavares ripping another Leaf shot off the post and Knies missing just wide from in tight.

In the middle of all of the Leaf pressure, the Liljegren-Edmundson and Rielly-Brodie pairings gave up free-and-clear looks right through the middle of the ice for a breakaway (good save Samsonov) and a 2-on-0 (missed net). With Ilya Lyubushkin ill and Simon Benoit in, the fits on the other pairs forced together Brodie-Rielly, but we saw numerous examples tonight of why it’s not just unreliable as a regular pairing now; it’s also borderline unplayable even in a pinch.

6.   As the Leafs continued to exert pressure to no avail offensively — they were now leading by over three minutes in puck possession time — the PK was put to the test against the worst power play in the NHL due to a William Nylander slashing penalty. No blood was drawn, but it was not a very convincing display from the Toronto shorthanded unit.

With Nylander in the box, a Kampf-Dewar duo started the PK alongside McCabe and Brodie, and they were killing for over a minute in the zone while looking disjointed and scrambly. It was a minor miracle that the Flyers didn’t score on a scramble in the crease.

Still, the PK nearly flipped the game in the Leafs’ favour when Bobby McMann escaped on a breakaway late in the kill, but he couldn’t settle the puck down early enough to give himself the full menu of options (he tried a flick shot toward the far post but was shut down). After he exited the box, Nylander broke through the middle with a brilliant individual effort, pulling it to his backhand around Samuel Ersson and sliding it onto the post. The distinct feeling: It wasn’t the Leafs’ night offensively.

7.   As mentioned, it also wasn’t Rielly-Brodie’s night as they ate their second dash of the night on the 3-0 goal late in the second period, which appeared to be the dagger. It came late on a shift for the Domi – Matthews – Bertuzzi line where there just wasn’t enough urgency in the defensive zone — particularly from Domi or Matthews on the wall — to dig in, win a battle, and get the puck out of danger.

The Flyers continued to succeed offensively with their simple recipe of winning battles on the walls and peppering shots on net with traffic in front. Shots were 22-14 Philadelphia at this stage of the night, and this shot appeared to glance off of TJ Brodie on its way past Samsonov.

It was a tired-looking effort from Domi and Bertuzzi when closing down the point as Morgan Frost had time to get his head up, step in, and measure his shot through traffic (stop me if you’ve heard that before about this Leafs team in their defensive zone).

8.   The Leafs were going to need an early-ish third-period goal to have any hope of a comeback in this game, and one arrived via the top unit on a power play drawn by David Kampf.

Immediately off the draw, John Tavares was poised when protecting the puck under pressure in a tight space at the top of the zone before the Leafs worked it across the ice to William Nylander, who simply beat Ersson cleanly on the short side.

Without Marner’s down-low playmaking abilities in the lineup for the time being, it seems like power-play success is going to have to look more like the Leafs moving downhill and ripping shots through Matthews and Nylander (and sometimes Liljegren, too, as we saw later in the third). That is exactly what happened here.

Game on.

9.   Now at 3-1 with half a period to play, Tyler Bertuzzi nearly flipped the game on its head.

After jumping onto the ice off the bench with a Leaf cycle underway, he read the developing play perfectly to sneak into the soft pocket of ice between a bunch of Flyers guarding the net. Morgan Rielly had shot down the wall for a handoff from Tavares on the cycle and then nicely picked Bertuzzi out in front for the finish.

Immediately afterward, on a Domi – Tavares – Bertuzzi shift, Bertuzzi mucked it up in front and tossed a Flyer to the ice before jamming a puck on net. He then jumped on a loose puck in front and bumped it over to Tavares for what would’ve been the game-tying goal if not for Scott Laughton’s hook on the Leafs’ captain. The Leafs nearly tied the game on a flurry of chances for PP1 on the subsequent man advantage.

Brad Treliving recently emphasized the team’s playoff offense drying up and the need for more greasy goals in the spring while citing the acquisition of Bertuzzi specifically. Bertuzzi’s eight goals and 12 points in his last 15 games are positive signs he’s ramping up at the most important time of year (combined with his excellent track record of playoff production at all levels).

10.   It started to feel inevitable that the Leafs were going to tie the game at 3-2 with over seven minutes to play, but after a flurry of chances for PP1 that Ersson somehow kept out, the death blow arrived at the end of the Leafs’ power play. The second unit’s tough night managing the puck continued as they conceded a cheap game-losing goal to kill the big push underway by the Leafs.

Max Domi tossed a loopy saucer pass at Nick Robertson which Robertson didn’t even get a piece of, perfectly setting up a Laughton rush coming out of the box. Simon Benoit — who had a solid first game back defending the Flyers’ rush threat, jumping up a little bit offensively, and battling hard in general — did enough to avoid a clean breakaway against, and the Flyers then fanned on the initial opportunity. The defense coming back into the zone was chaos, though; Robertson hit the deck charging the puck carrier behind the net and Jake McCabe joined him at the goal line instead of stopping in front and tying up, leaving two Flyers and an empty net to bury a 4-2 goal into (Samsonov had lost his stick and was out of sorts).

A nice 6-on-5 Tavares goal to make it 4-3 with a few minutes to go featured more good work from Bertuzzi in tight to the Flyer net, but it was too little, too late.

The Leafs’ first 21 minutes sunk them in this game, and a lack of puck luck (half a dozen posts) plus the lack of big saves finished the job. Without a ton to play for in the standings down the stretch and some injury/illness impacting their lineup, the Leafs are going to have to manufacture more urgency from the drop of the puck in these matchups against opponents with more to play for than them, including the one they’ll face tomorrow night in Washington. Outside of two top opponents in the Oilers and Hurricanes, the Leafs face the Capitals (x2), the Sabres, and the Devils before the end of March (i.e. teams fighting for their playoff lives).

Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Joe Bowen & Jim Ralph Game Highlights