The Toronto Maple Leafs, who have outranked only two teams in the entire NHL, are a team that the Flyers should beat. They’re not the kind of team the Flyers can afford to fool around with and lose points against. And last night, coming off a heartbreaking loss to San Jose on Wednesday, they came out and did their job.
It started with discipline. After Wednesday’s third period rash of penalties let the Sharks back into the game – one which they ultimately won with some shootout magic – the Flyers couldn’t afford to let penalties get the best of them again. Aside from a Braydon Coburn double minor in the first period, the Flyers had little to worry about in the form of Toronto power play chances, committing only two other minors throughout the evening.
The boys in orange and black got the scoring started with some extra man play of their own as Ville Leino beat J.S. Giguere between the legs a mere six seconds into the Flyers’ first power play opportunity. Barely a minute later, with momentum on their side, the Flyers cashed in again as Chris Pronger blew one by Giguere from the point.
Down two goals to a dangerous and stingy Flyers team, the Leafs had one last chance to keep the game alive when Coburn drew a delayed penalty for hooking and found himself caught with a cross check before the puck was touched up.
The Flyers had a four minute penalty to kill, and they did it with ease. The central pairs of Richards and Giroux and then Powe and Betts swarmed the Leafs puck carriers, slowing them before they crossed the line and keeping them from setting up the way they’d like.
Any time Toronto did find time and got the puck to the net, Brian Boucher was there to come up huge. Not only did he keep out 31 of 32 shots on the night, but many of them were high quality chances – point blank shots and back door opportunities. It didn’t matter, “Boosh” stopped them all – with the only thing getting by being a pretty fake shot-pass move from Clarke MacArthur to Mikhail Grabovski for an easy tip in.
A pair of hookups between Andrej Meszaros and Danny Briere served to extend the Flyers’ lead in the second period. A shot off the boards and to the stick of Briere gave him his team-leading 15th goal of the year as he slid it by Giguere. Later, a fast break two-on-one chance saw Meszaros set Briere up for his 16th of the season, putting him on pace for over 40 goals, topping his career high of 32 from his final year with the Buffalo Sabres.
While not yet consistent in their success, the Flyers are at least managing to avoid the pitfall that has plagued them for years – they play to their competition, challenging strong teams, but coming out flat against the teams they deserve to beat. A night like this proves that this Flyers team is different, and while it can’t always best the opposition, these players will play their game night in and night out.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Faceoffs: After losing 60 percent of their draws against the Sharks – including giving up goals off the faceoff – the Flyers turned it around, showed some pride in the circle, and came away with more than two thirds of the wins against the Leafs. Faceoff wins are an oft-overlooked stat that can truly tell the story of a game. For the Flyers, who thrive more and more on puck possession, establishing that offensive zone control immediately off the puck drop can be deadly for the opposition. It showed in this game, most notably in the Ville Leino goal – where a faceoff win allowed the offense to set up, a man to pick his spot in front of the net, and Leino to rip a shot through the screen.