Flyers score lone goal of first period on Simmonds breakaway. Both the Leafs and Flyers were playing their second game in as many nights Thursday, and both were coming off of wins. And the Flyers struck first against Toronto with 7:45 remaining in the first period when winger Wayne Simmonds capitalized on a breakaway opportunity and beat goalie Curtis McElhinney for his 21st goal of the season.
The Buds outshot Philadelphia 9-6 in the first 20 minutes, but Simmonds' goal was the only one scored in the frame, leaving Toronto to play catch-up in the middle period. But they'd do exactly that late in the second frame.
Nylander shows value of driving to the net in traffic, evens the score. Entering Thursday's action, winger William Nylander had generated half of his regular-season points on the power play: five of his nine goals and 15 of his 30 points came with the extra man. However, Nylander registered his 10th of the year at the 15:35 mark of the second at even strength, and in the process underscored why NHLers are well-advised to make a push toward the net to get scoring chances in close.
After a stellar pass from centre Nazem Kadri, Nylander fired a shot at Philly goalie Michal Neuvirth, and followed it up by knocking home the rebound for his 10th of the year. The goal was Nylander's first since Jan. 13th against the Rangers, but the 20-year-old has still been producing in the six games that followed, with three assists in that span. He's been a crafty playmaker at the AHL level prior to moving up to the NHL on a full-time basis, and his ability to distribute the puck and produce 21 assists this season has been impressive. But any NHL player will tell you it's good for their confidence to score as well.
Leafs keep game close in third, but Philadelphia keeps applying pressure, scores game-winner late. The teams remained tied for most of a hard-fought third period, but the Flyers got more pucks on net, outshooting the Leafs 15-9 in the period - and with 2:37 remaining in regulation time, Philly defenceman Roman Lyubimov scored his fourth of the year to put the home side ahead.
Toronto head coach Mike Babcock pulled McElhinney in the final two minutes to give his team a chance to tie it with the extra attacker, but although the Leafs came close to doing so a couple of times, Neuwirth kept the door shut to preserve the win for Philadelphia and end Toronto's franchise-record streak of 11 straight road games with at least one point (9-0-2).
McElhinney gives Toronto solid performance in net in losing cause. McElhinney won his debut with Toronto in a 4-2 win over Ottawa Jan. 14, and once again, the 33-year-old veteran allowed just two goals in his second start for the Leafs. Unfortunately, the Buds' offence didn't produce enough to get him the victory, but Babcock and Toronto management have to be pleased with what they've seen from him since claiming him off waivers from Columbus.
He'll likely be asked to continue playing the second half of back-to-back games while No. 1 goalie Frederik Andersen carries the bulk of the load, but if McElhinney can continue posting save percentages in the mid-.900 range, the Leafs are going to give him sufficient goal support to put him in the win column more often than not.
All-star break gives Buds some rest and recharge time before resuming action on the road. The Leafs now have the NHL's all-star break to reset and recharge before heading back on the road for a four-game road swing that includes tilts against the Stars Jan. 31, the Blues Feb. 2, the Bruins Feb. 4 and the Islanders Feb. 6. The first three of those teams are trying desperately to solidify a post-season berth, so Toronto will have to be prepared and focused if they're to do the same. And the Islanders are under new coaching staff, so they can't be considered a soft touch, either.
The Buds simply can't afford a stretch of off nights, but luckily for Leafs Nation, they've usually bounced back from a defeat with a determined effort and a positive result.