For the first time this young season, the Toronto Maple Leafs were fun to watch. There have been entertaining flashes, but nothing like their showing in a 5-2 win over the rebuilding Philadelphia Flyers. Of course, it’s hard to skip over the John Tavares hat trick or the Ilya Samsonov performance in the crease. Still, the highlight and the biggest takeaway was how the players stood up for one another, led by veteran Mark Giordano.
Before we get started with takeaways, Toronto should thank the schedule maker and John Tortorella. The Flyers played the night before against a tough New York Rangers squad, while the Maple Leafs had a couple of days to regroup from their road trip. Tortorella gets a thank-you for defending Sheldon Keefe and creating a team full of aggressive players that tested Toronto in many ways.
Toronto Shows Toughness
The most significant criticism against the Kyle Dubas’ team is that it lacks grit, physicality and just that in-your-face attitude needed, especially at playoffs. With less than two minutes to go and the game in hand, Travis Konecny gave a few extra taps to Auston Matthews. The back-to-back scoring king took exception and slashed back. Konecny responded by shaking the gloves, looking for a fight, and setting off every player wearing blue.
Giordano did what Leafs’ Nation has been waiting to see for a long time. Zach Aston Reese, who scored his first goal as a Leaf, was all smiles recalling what he saw, “oh, that was awesome. I thought it was WWE for a second. You always love to see guys stick up for their teammates like that.”
Toronto needed to find the physical role somewhere else for a team with Wayne Simmonds and Kyle Clifford on the payroll, but they have been ineffective. But the 38-year-old defenseman, not known for fighting, was not expected to by the guy policing the opposition. Michael Bunting was also front and centre in the mix-up. He must’ve put every Flyer in a headlock or given a facewash during the melee.
Samsonov is Sensational
We will never know why the Washington Capitals turned their back on Samsonov, but Dubas is lucky that the young Russian netminder picked Toronto. The Flyers started the third period by rushing in on a two-on-none when Samsonov kicked the pad out. That save persevered a 2-1 lead. Samsonov was asked about his big save, “my work is real easy. Just stop the puck to help the team.”
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While Samsonov downplays his role, Matthews said the goalie has been a difference maker, “he’s played great for us, and he played on his head tonight for us as well… he’s been playing unbelievable for us, it’s fun to watch him.”
Tavares Leads by Example
The captain put up his 11th career hat trick, and it could not have come at a more opportune time. The core four, the leadership group, whatever you want to call it, the big guns have just not performed to start the season. Nevertheless, Tavares looked dominant at times. His three goals were not flukes, tips or garbage goals; they were all beautiful. He set up Matthews with a great pass from behind the net and through the legs of the defender.
This game was what Toronto needed to get some confidence back after an underwhelming first ten games. But the Flyers are rebuilding, and this is a game that Toronto should’ve won. Next up, the Buds play the red-hot Boston Bruins, who are 9-1 to start the season, before hitting the road to Carolina to play the 6-2-1 Hurricanes. But for now, the sky is not falling in Toronto – yet.
Kevin Armstrong is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. He’s been rink side for World Juniors, Memorial Cups, Calder Cups and Stanley Cups. Like many Canadian kids, his earliest memories include hockey. Kevin has spent countless hours in arenas throughout the country watching all levels of the game.