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Flyers vs. Maple Leafs recap: Are we sure that wasn't actually a Flyers-Devils game?

In their first look at the new, defensively-sound Toronto Maple Leafs, the Flyers won a 1-0 defensive struggle with the help of a stellar performance by Steve Mason.

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Not long ago, a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs meant an open neutral zone and a barrage of goals for both teams, usually ending in a Flyers victory.

Tonight, the style of play may have changed, but the result remained the same.

Toronto bottled up the Flyers in the neutral zone and allowed only 18 shots, but Michael Del Zotto was able to beat James Reimer with one of them to give the Flyers an early lead that they would never relinquish. Steve Mason did the rest, shutting out the Maple Leafs and preserving the 1-0 victory.

It was bizarre to watch Toronto, a team that always spends to the limit of the salary cap, play a low-event style of a hockey based on tight checking in the neutral zone, but Peter Horachek has quickly put his stamp on the Leafs since the firing of Randy Carlyle.

So far, the on-ice results haven't been there, and the Flyers were fortunate to play against Toronto when they are clearly in a scoring slump. But unlike other matchups with the Leafs, this game was competitive throughout, and it's easy to imagine Toronto closing out the season strong once some of their shots finally start going into the net.

Luckily for the Flyers, that was not about to start tonight. And it was primarily because Steve Mason was always there to answer the bell whenever the Maple Leafs threatened.

It's become clear that Mason has come a long way from his days in Columbus. I wouldn't go so far as to say that he's an elite goalie, but he's at least a capable starter. The Flyers have lots of roster flaws, but as tonight (and really, this season as a whole) proved, the goaltender position isn't one of them.

A few more observations on the game:

  • Petr Straka set up Del Zotto's game winner with a perfectly-placed pass in traffic, and before that, he used his plus speed to blast through the neutral zone and gain the blueline with speed. Straka has been playing the left side since his callup, and he's looked right at home there despite being drafted and developed primarily as a RW. The Flyers as an franchise are pretty weak at LW, and with his strong play during this stint, Straka may be shooting up the organizational depth chart due to his versatility.
  • Every game, it feels like I'm singling out Michael Del Zotto for a strong performance, but he simply deserves all of the praise he can get. If the Flyers do not at least qualify him after the season, they are insane.
  • Straka has rightfully received the lionshare of the hype recently, but Ryan White has been surprisingly solid as well. Good on faceoffs, solid defensive zone positioning and strong on the puck - let's add him to the list of fourth-line talents that should be in the lineup over Zac Rinaldo.
  • Phil Kessel took six shots tonight. At times, the game looked like a Down Goes Brown Toronto preview video. Phil Kessel skates down the wing and shoots, indeed.
  • Second straight poor possession game for the top line. For the Flyers to have any chance to beat the Islanders next Thursday, those guys will need to play like themselves again. They'll have almost a week to figure it out.
  • Carlo Colaiacovo had a nice bounce-back game after looking like a total mess against Winnipeg. Even threw his weight around a bit at times. Good to see he didn't let his poor performance stick with him, even though he'll likely be back out of the lineup on Thursday with the probable return of Nicklas Grossmann.
  • The Maple Leafs certainly have their fair share of roster issues, but Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner continue to look like building blocks on the defense. Hopefully a couple of the Flyers' big-four (Morin, Gostisbehere, Hagg and Sanheim) develop into exciting, productive players like them.