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Maple Leafs 6, Flyers 3: A hot start fizzled out into another loss

At least we can say we saw MacEwen fight Simmonds.

Zack MacEwen throws a punch at Wayne Simmonds with his left hand while gripping Simmonds’ jersey with his right Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

For the first time for the Flyers all season — and for the first time since 2009 — Keith Yandle was a scratch in a hockey game. He sat to make room for newly-signed defenseman Ronnie Attard to make his NHL debut.

There was controversy all day about whether or not the Flyers made the right call to snap Yandle’s ironman streak at 989 games. I’m not here to debate it myself, though. I’m just here to recap what the first Yandle-less game this season for the Flyers looked like as they went up against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Folks, not much changed. The Flyers still found themselves losing a hockey game. Of course benching Yandle was never going to be the end-all be-all difference that turns the Flyers into a winning team all of the sudden, but it was still a momentous choice to actively end that streak.

Period 1

Early in the first, Morgan Frost was the standout Flyer, with a few good looks and a breakaway attempt. Jack Campbell, however, was playing as if he hadn’t missed a beat.

The Flyers got the first power play of the game, and as ever, it wasn’t very eventful. In fact, it says a lot about the state of the Flyers’ power play that not letting Ilya Mikheyev score a shorthanded goal felt like an achievement.

Zack MacEwan was seconds away from fighting Wayne Simmonds, but the referees broke it up before they could start swinging punches. Breaking up a fight before it can happen is always a let-down, but it’s especially so when Flyers fans were robbed of a chance to see Simmonds fight in the Wells Fargo Center once more.

The Maple Leafs started to push a little more after this, but in the dying seconds of the period, the Flyers had control once again. Travis Konecny had a really good shot, but Campbell managed to get just enough of a piece of it to deflect it high. The scoring chance was even more impressive considering Konecny originally wasn’t going to play tonight due to illness. Either it resolved itself in time or he chose to push himself through it — which maybe isn’t the smartest idea during a pandemic, but what do I know as a humble blogger.

After 20 minutes of play, the game was scoreless on both sides, but the Flyers were the better team throughout. Shots on goal were 11-6, Flyers’ advantage.

Period 2

The Flyers were able to finally capitalize on all the momentum they had been generating when Kevin Hayes scored at 3:56 in the period. Ivan Provorov made a smart, quick pass across the length of the net to Hayes, who was wide open and undefended in front of it.

Not even a full minute later, Provorov was called for holding, and the Flyers found themselves staring down the league’s best power play unit. Somehow, the Flyers lived to tell the tale. Part of it was because Carter Hart made some good saves, but the Maple Leafs had set themselves up well during the power play. The Flyers could honestly stand to try to take some tips, but also, that requires having players with the level of skill that Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner can provide.

Going back to the narratives theme, when the Maple Leafs scored their first goal, it was only natural that Simmonds was the one to send the puck to the back of the net. Normally I’d call any goal against someone’s old team a “revenge goal” but that feels too mean spirited for someone that is so beloved in Philadelphia. Maybe call this one a homecoming goal.

While I will forgive Simmonds scoring against the Flyers, because he deserves any and all success wherever he goes, I was less happy to see the Maple Leafs take the lead about a minute later. Timothy Liljegren scored, and it was one of those goals against where you know Hart would like a redo button, because it was not one of his proudest goaltending mooments.

Toronto didn’t get to hold onto that lead for very long, though, as Provorov and Hayes combined for a second goal — just swap who got the goal and who got the assist.

All in all it was a more eventful second period. It was nice to see the Flyers’ chances from the first period turn into actual goals in the second, but the Maple Leafs were never going to make things easy. They’re one of the best teams in the league, after all. Up to this point, though, the Flyers were proving themselves a worthy opponent to challenge them.

Period 3

Matthews pulled the Maple Leafs back into the lead 7:41 into the period. Marner carried the puck all around the back of the net and passed it to Matthews who tipped the puck in cleanly.

The goal clip cuts it off, but at the end of the play, Hayes was incensed against Michael Bunting for reasons that didn’t look entirely clear. The referees had to pull Hayes away before an incident broke out. It didn’t matter how many times I rewatched the play, I couldn’t really make out what made Hayes so angry at Bunting.

Remember what I said about how not allowing a shorthanded goal earlier was an achievement for the Flyers’ power play? It became even more of an achievement as their second power play of the game turned into a goal against. Pierre Engvall went off on a shorthanded breakaway, and that was that. This was the ninth time the Flyers have allowed a shorthanded goal, which is tied for second in the NHL. That’s not a thing you want to be second in the NHL for.

Only 40 seconds later, Provorov scored his second goal of the night. It initially looked like it might have been MacEwen to get the goal, but the scoring changed shortly after. For Provorov, this marked his first three-point game of the season. It’s bittersweet that this effort only comes up now that the games don’t have any meaning to them with the Flyers’ official elimination from playoff contention, but if it proves to towards any sort of bounce-back for next season, it’ll be a welcome sign.

A little over a minute after the Prorovov goal, Toronto reinstated its two-goal lead with a goal from Morgan Rielly.

Two minutes after that came a goal from John Tavares, because it just wasn’t enough to win. No, the Maple Leafs had to prove that they weren’t going to let the Flyers come close to their level after all.

After all this, it could at least be said that Simmonds and MacEwen finally got into their fight. The referees learned their lesson and let it happen. Also, the Wells Fargo Center DJ had their finger on the pop culture pulse and played the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song right after. It certainly wasn’t the first time a hockey arena DJ has done this after Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at the Oscars (see: the Seattle Kraken), but it hasn’t gotten old yet.

What has gotten old, though, is losing. Lose is what the Flyers did though, as they officially dropped this game 6-3.

Final thoughts

This was just sad to watch play out as it did. The Flyers started off this game on such a high note, but ultimately it felt like they pushed too hard too fast and just completely ran out of steam at the end. If you only saw the end score without knowing what happened in the game, I would say it’s a score you’d expect from these two teams. Yet, for much of the game, the Flyers didn’t play like a team that should have had six goals dropped against them.

That’s just been a theme of the Flyers all season, though. Even when they’re doing certain things right, everything just goes wrong.

The Flyers don’t have long to dwell on this loss, as they bounce right back tomorrow night to play the New York Rangers at 7:00 p.m. ET at Madison Square Garden.

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