TORONTO — Andreas Johnsson’s hat trick just over 12 minutes into the game led an early barrage as the Toronto Maple Leafs cruised past the Philadelphia Flyers 6-0 on Saturday.
John Tavares, Patrick Marleau and Josh Leivo also scored for Toronto (16-8-0). Backup goalie Garret Sparks made 35 saves for his first shutout of the season and the second of his career. Mitch Marner added two assists for the Leafs.
Calvin Pickard, who was claimed by the Flyers on waivers from Toronto before the start of the season, allowed four goals on six shots for Philadelphia (10-11-2) before getting the hook.
Anthony Stolarz allowed two goals on 34 shots in relief.
Coming off back-to-back road losses, including Friday’s 4-2 decision in Columbus, the Leafs built a 4-0 lead after just 12:20 of action thanks in large part to the first hat trick of Johnsson’s career.
The speedy winger got things going at 4:45 when he faked a slapshot off the rush before sliding the puck between Pickard’s pads for his third goal of the season.
Johnsson made it 2-0 just 1:34 later when he blocked a point shot from Flyers defenceman Christian Folin and raced in alone and beat Pickard through the five-hole for a second time.
Marleau got in on the action at 7:44 when he fired his fifth into an open net off a scramble after a poor Philadelphia clearing attempt.
A teammate of Pickard’s with the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League last season, Johnsson completed his hat trick — the 24-year-old had just four goals in 27 career NHL games before Saturday — on another shot between the pads from in tight after stealing the puck from a Flyers defender.
That ended the night for Pickard, who was coming off a 31-save shutout in Philadelphia’s 4-0 victory over the New York Rangers on Friday afternoon that snapped the Flyers’ four-game skid (0-3-1).
Toronto, which fell behind 2-0 in the first period in each of its last three games, could have easily stretched its advantage even further before the period was out.
But Stolarz, the fifth goalie to see action for the injury-riddled Flyers already this season, made two big stops on Marleau and another off Tavares on a breakaway.
Sparks, who got the start in place of No. 1 netminder Frederik Andersen, made a nice stop on a Shane Gostisbehere one-timer midway through the second as the game settled down following Toronto’s frantic opening.
Leivo then made it 5-0 with his third at 11:07 on an odd-man rush when he beat Stolarz off a slick feed from Marner.
Kasperi Kapanen hit the post a few minutes later for the Leafs, but Tavares eventually made it 6-0 with his 15th, firing a loose puck upstairs after Marner toe-dragged around two defenders at 17:10.
Saturday marked the return to Toronto of Flyers winger James van Riemsdyk, who played six seasons in blue and white before signing a five-year, US$35-million contract with Philadelphia on July 1.
Van Riemsdyk suffered a lower-body injury just two games into his second stint with the Flyers — he was traded to the Leafs in June 2012 for defenceman Luke Schenn — that forced him out of the lineup for five weeks before he returned to action Nov. 15.
Honoured with a first-period video tribute Saturday, the 29-year-old scored 154 goals in 413 games with Toronto, including a career- and team-high 36 last season.
Notes: Neither team was assessed a penaly for the second consecutive game at Scotiabank Arena. The NHL’s last penalty-free game before this week came back in March 2017. … Johnsson is the eighth Leafs player to score a first-period hat trick and the first since Wendel Clark on Oct. 11, 1986. … Sparks’s only other shutout came in his NHL debut on Nov. 30, 2015. … Canadian pop star Justin Bieber and new wife Hailey Baldwin watched the game from a private suite. … Leafs centre Auston Matthews missed his 13th consecutive game with a shoulder injury suffered. The 21-year-old is back practising and could return to the lineup as early as Monday when Toronto hosts Boston. … The clock continues to tick for the Leafs to get a contract done with restricted free agent William Nylander. The 22-year-old winger needs to sign by Dec. 1 at 5 p.m. ET in order to be eligible to play in the NHL this season.
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press