Maple Leafs report cards: Fourth line connects, Jack Campbell keeps calm in tidy win over Flyers

It’s not often seven goals are scored in a game that, at the same time, had little going for it. The Leafs are in this awkward patch of the regular season where they’re facing teams that aren’t in the playoff picture whatsoever, but the points are still important. First in the Atlantic Division is still within reach and the team doesn’t need another Buffalo situation in which they play down to their opponent and give up an easy defeat. The game was slow, they capitalized on their chances, they got the win and coach Sheldon Keefe got to try out some new forward combinations. That’s what I call tidy business.


First Star

Jack Campbell

Campbell stopped 37 of 39 shots for a .949 save percentage — that’s seven starts and seven wins for the Leafs starting goaltender. The Leafs didn’t need to call on him a lot tonight, but he did make some big saves on Kevin Hayes, James van Riemsdyk and Travis Konecny.

Second Star

Jason Spezza

It’s been a while since Spezza scored a goal and this is arguably the best goal from the fourth line this season. Spezza gets it started, forcing the turnover in the neutral zone and ending the passing play with Giordano. There were a lot of years and games behind that tally — 109 and 3,267 respectively, to be exact — but the skill was in full effect.

Spezza has been throwing his weight around more and more as the points have stopped coming so easily; not only did we see that on his goal, but he’s also been pretty heavy on the forecheck.

Third Star

William Nylander

The top power-play unit is starting to find the back of the net again thanks to Nylander. His man-advantage goal is not only his second power-play goal in as many games, but it sets a new career high at 32.

Player reports

A

Wayne Simmonds

Simmonds had two solid chances to score himself before connecting with Giordano and Spezza in the second. He was robbed by Martin Jones in the opening frame and had another chance after deflecting Justin Holl’s shot off the point.

As for the Spezza goal, there’s a lot to love about it, and Simmonds breaking Keith Yandle’s ankles while having his back to him is up there.

B+

Mark Giordano

Giordano’s timing when it comes to rushing up and down the ice is near-perfect every time and being there to take the outlet pass from Spezza completed the play.

Timothy Liljegren

That top corner snipe from Liljegren for his fifth goal of the season gave the game some life. Liljegren has been solid, taking advantage of open lanes in the offensive zone, and Philadelphia gave him all the time in the world to finish on that shot.

Mitch Marner

You can’t give up a clear passing lane and not expect Marner to take advantage of it. A crisp pass to Nylander on the power play gave Marner his 95th point of the season; a new career high and five away from triple digits. On the downside, Marner shares some of the blame for the Flyers’ second goal of the game as he forced a pass while fatigued which turned the puck over in the offensive zone.

Nick Abruzese

Keefe gave Abruzzesse the task of his short career this time as the second-line center between Marner and Michael Bunting and I thought he handled it well. The rookie read off of what his wingers were doing and laid back in a supportive role, laying and playing pucks in their wheelhouses to help them create. I was a big fan of his deflection on the Ilya Lyubushkin shot as he worked the puck along the side and then immediately headed right to the slot.

B

Alex Kerfoot

Kerfoot was a hound on the puck ahead of the first goal of the game. It was one thing to rush the puck down ice and work it along the boards, but after losing it the first time, he got it back and hit Liljegren with a pass through the lane for his goal.

Michael Bunting

The Leafs had six scoring chances in the third and only three actual shots on net. Bunting was responsible for one of those chances that didn’t register as a shot — the puck hit the post and didn’t cross the goal line. A few more centimetres and Bunting makes it 5-1 Leafs.

Ilya Mikheyev

Mikheyev had a glorious chance to make it 2-1 before Nylander did. He managed to sneak away from Yegor Zamula but couldn’t convert on the open-net tap-in from John Tavares. Fortunately, Mikheyev was able to find the back of the net with the extra attacker out for the Flyers, drawing him another step closer to 20 on the season.

Colin Blackwell

That was a nice individual short-handed effort Blackwell had in the first period. He used his speed to break into the zone and played the puck to himself across for the eventual shot on net. I noticed Blackwell doing more of those short lateral saucer passes to himself and his linemates to create space.

TJ Brodie

With the net empty, you want a player like Brodie on the ice to keep things simple and hold the puck against the boards. The Flyers gave Brodie all the time in the world to kill the clock and he made them regret it as that work led to Mikheyev’s empty-netter.

B-

Pierre Engvall

A number of shots were directed toward the net off of Engvall’s stick after entering the zone with speed, but not many were hitting the net. I do like the defensive positioning and the unselfishness to advance the puck for Mikheyev’s goal. Engvall could’ve gone for it himself; Instead, he recognized the potential of a turnover with Philadelphia bodies around.

John Tavares

The captain had a pair of looks on the power play; one on the side of the net and another that almost went off Ivan Provorov. He really took advantage of how much space the Flyers were giving up and at the same time, didn’t shy away from stickhandling the puck in between and around defending players.

Justin Hall

Aside from being caught pinching at times, I thought Holl had a fine game. After the Kyle Clifford deflection goal in Ottawa, Holl seems to be looking for those players parked in front and setting them up for opportunities; it almost worked with Simmonds this time around.

C+

David Kämpf

There was some back and forth on who would get credit and it ended with Kämpf earning the right to claim his 11th of the season. Although it was a double deflection off him and Provorov in front, the play starts with Kämpf pinning Hayes along the boards to take him out of the rotation and quickly getting to the slot.

Kämpf’s work on Philadelphia’s first deserves some criticism though. Van Riemsdyk had three attempts at the puck before his goal and Kämpf was right there next to him for it all, not able to tie his stick among the chaos.

C

Morgan Riley

Rielly wasn’t as strong on the puck as usual. His reads in the offensive zone to play on the wall as Nylander controlled the high ice were great but there were too many moments where he simply lost or was forced off the puck in dangerous areas.

C-

Ilya Lyubushkin

Two poor decisions with the puck led to high-danger chances for the Flyers and the Leafs gave up a goal on the second. Both involve Lyubushkin not putting enough steam on the puck to clear and instead giving them an opportunity to send the puck back toward the net and create a scrum in front of Campbell. The scruffle with Zack MacEwen at the end of the game earns him some points though.


Game Score

Game Score is a metric developed by The Athletic‘s Dom Luszczyszyn to quickly measure a player’s performance in a single game.

Final grade: B

This was as basic a win as you could get. The Leafs were outshot but at no point did the game seem out of reach. A lot of that comes with the team’s mantra of staying patient and letting the game come to them and that was clear in the first period when there wasn’t much going on. The fourth line getting those impactful shifts is a positive, especially with Simmonds and Spezza connecting on a goal of the year candidate. Additionally, Campbell looking calm and steady is a huge takeaway from the game, especially looking at the next two games on the schedule. Speaking of that…

Where do the Leafs go from here?

Thursday is a first-round preview for the Leafs and I trust Keefe will be treating it as such. Auston Matthews — who I would expect to draw back into the lineup — had a hat trick against the Tampa Bay Lightning the last time the two teams met up. That game made the back-to-back Stanley Cup champions look mortal and them dropping a 4-3 decision to the Detroit Red Wings tonight only further drives that point. I doubt this will be a game where the Leafs sit back to start; They should dictate play early and come out swinging as there will be a lot on the line aside from the two points.

Tweet of the Night

(Photo: Andrew Lahodynskyj / NHLI via Getty Images)

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