Maple Leafs Takeaways: Bad start proves costly vs. Flyers

Owen Tippett and Morgan Frost each registered a goal and an assist to lift the Philadelphia Flyers to a 4-3 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Maybe the Toronto Maple Leafs had used up all their luck against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Gunning for their ninth straight win over the Flyers — and second in Philly in six days — the Leafs were downed 4-3 in the City of Brotherly Love on Tuesday night.

With some shoddy defensive play and a couple sleepy starts to periods, you could argue Toronto didn’t deserve any better than the result it got.

Then again, the Buds did ding a half-dozen posts behind Flyers goalie Samuel Ersson.

Unfortunately for Toronto, none of its attempts found the net until the early stages of the final frame, when the club had already fallen behind 3-0. The Buds fought hard to close the gap — making it a 3-2 and 4-3 game before the final horn sounded — but couldn’t avoid losing back-to-back contests for the first time since Jan. 16.

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The Leafs get a chance to jump back in the win column right away with a game versus the Capitals in Washington on Wednesday. Before we get there, though, here’s what stood out from the loss in Pennsylvania.

First-minute fumbles

Any time you surrender a goal 19 seconds into the contest, you’re starting the game with one foot in the grave. That’s exactly what happened to Toronto when Owen Tippett wristed a shot from close to the blue line that found its way through a maze of bodies and past Ilya Samsonov.

That may have been a bad way to start the game, but you could argue what we witnessed to kick off the middle frame was worse. With Ilya Lyubushkin scratched because of an illness, Morgan Rielly was paired with T.J. Brodie. The duo started the second period and absolutely butchered an exit attempt that ultimately led to a Philly score 56 seconds into the stanza. In fairness to Rielly, his forwards kind of abandoned him as he looked to move the puck up the wall and out of the zone. Instead, he went horizontal with a pass to Brodie, who mishandled the puck. When he recovered, Brodie sent a backhand feed that missed Rielly and rolled behind the Leafs goal. By that point, the play had completely broken down from Toronto’s perspective and, moments later, Garnet Hathaway whipped a pass through the zone to the point, where Travis Sanheim was waiting to rip a shot past Samsonov.

That wasn’t the only example of sloppy play from Toronto, but given it occurred right from the jump in the second period — after the team had already been caught napping in the first minute of the opening period, no less — it certainly felt like the most egregious.

Power play gets off the schneid, but…

First, the good news. The Leafs — who entered the game with a struggling power play that was successful on just one for its past 24 attempts and did not look good on its first crack in Philly — did finally break through on its second try of this game. The goal came courtesy of William Nylander — his sixth in his past nine outings — as he took a pass from Auston Matthews at the left faceoff dot and wired a shot past Ersson 1:11 into the final frame to get the Leafs back in the fight.

(Nylander also established a new career high on the play with his 88th point of the season.)

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About 10 minutes later, the PP had a chance to pull Toronto even after Tyler Bertuzzi had cut the Philly lead to 3-2. While they produced a couple good looks, the Leafs failed to capitalize on the man advantage and, in the dying seconds of the power play, Max Domi sent an ill-fated pass to Nick Robertson that skipped past his teammate and wound up on the stick of Flyer Scott Laughton as he exited the penalty box. A few frantic seconds later, Laughton had gathered a loose puck and sent a second attempt on Samsonov into the cage.

The Leafs did manage a six-on-five tally from John Tavares to make it close, but the Laughton goal on the heels of that third power play wound up being the difference.

The captain comes through

Speaking of Tavares, he factored in on all three goals for Toronto and — save for the fact he was on for the goal against 19 ticks into the night — No. 91 was fantastic for a team that is still playing without the injured Mitch Marner in its top-six forward crew.

Before scoring himself, Tavares had a pair of assists and the first one, in particular, was a very impressive secondary helper. On the power play that ended with Nylander scoring, the captain showed great poise with the puck at the offensive blue line as he twisted and turned with Hathaway all over him. By maintaining control of the puck, Tavares was able to slide it to Matthews in the high slot and No. 34 shuffled it over to a wide open Nylander for the finish.

Beyond the offence, Tavares went 13-for-18 at the dot to win 72 per cent of his draws.

Six-pack of posts

If you closed your eyes at Wells Fargo Center you might have thought there were wind chimes filling the air thanks to all the posts these team clanked. While the home crew nailed a couple themselves, the Leafs dinged no less than six posts, most dramatically when Nylander undressed defenceman Egor Zamula, stretched his backhand out past Ersson’s right pad and directed the puck right off the iron.

Truthfully, even with all the posts, the Leafs’ most incredible miss may have occurred when Matthews hit Domi with a pass on a 2-on-1 that basically just required the latter to slip it into a yawning goal. However, Domi’s attempt was somewhat unwittingly blocked by Philly defenceman Cam York, who was twisted up trying to defend the play but had a skate perfectly positioned to deflect Domi’s attempt wide.

It was that kind of night for Toronto, which will now attempt to end its short losing streak against a Capitals team that — like Philly — is playing desperate hockey while scrapping it out for one of the final Eastern Conference playoff spots.

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