Skip to main content

Toronto Maple Leafs' John Tavares (91) celebrates his third goal of the game against the Philadelphia Flyers during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Wednesday, November 2, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank GunnFrank Gunn/The Canadian Press

The Maple Leafs saved Sheldon Keefe’s job – for now– on Wednesday with a decisive 5-2 victory over the Flyers at Scotiabank Arena.

John Tavares scored three times, Zach Aston-Reese was credited with the winner and Auston Matthews had the other. Tavares leads the club with seven goals, while Matthews has five. The goal was the first of the season – and first point – for Aston-Reese.

The triumph ended a four-game losing streak and improved the club’s record to 5-4-2 with the Boston Bruins (9-1) coming to town on Saturday night.

Toronto carried much of the play against the tired Flyers, who lost in overtime on Tuesday in New York against the Rangers. The Maple Leafs outshot them 16-6 in the first 20 minutes and had a 30-15 advantage after 40.

Philadelphia goalie Felix Sandstrom is yet to collect a victory in eight NHL games. The backup to Carter Hart made 39 saves. Ilya Samsonov improved to 5-2 in Toronto’s net. He stopped 23 of the 25 shots he faced.

“The result was great,” Samsonov said. “It was what we needed.”

It was a better effort from a Maple Leafs contingent that had lacked a break-out performance in their first 10 games. They even fought for each other and Keefe – Mark Giordano had two scuffles with frustrated Flyers, one after the other – with 1:44 remaining in the game.

“It looked a little bit like the WWE out there,” Aston-Reece said.

We’ve seen the Leafs have shaky starts before, but something this year feels different

Where do the slumping Toronto Maple Leafs go from here?

Keefe’s longevity as Toronto’s head coach seemed to be in question after a 1-2-2 road trip with losses to two lousy opponents and one fair-to-middler.

On Wednesday, the Maple Leafs were good on the forecheck, won more puck battles, and dominated the play. They went 2-for-5 on the power play and 5-of-6 on the penalty kill.

“It was better,” Keefe said. “We pretty much controlled the game from start to finish.”

Philadelphia scored first with 6:51 left in the first period on a long slap shot by Joel Farabee. But Matthews evened things up on a power play and Tavares scored his first of three before the period ended and Toronto went to the dressing room with a 2-1 lead.

Aston-Reece scored early in the third to push the lead to 3-1. It was his first point with the Maple Leafs. The former Penguin made the team during training camp after being given a tryout offer.

“For me, he has gotten better each time out,” Keefe said. “I see him gaining some traction here.”

Philadelphia cut the deficit to 3-2 with a power-play goal by Owen Tippett with 12:59 remaining before Tavares completed his hat trick with two more.

His second goal was a pretty one where he charged the crease, had one shot turned away but netted it on a second chance.

“That is big time stuff there,” Keefe said.

It was the 11th three-goal game of Tavares’s career. There are only six active players with more hat tricks: Alex Ovechkin (28), Eric Staal (14), Evgeni Malkin (13), Connor McDavid (12), David Pastrnak (12) and Sidney Crosby (12).

“It’s nice,” Tavares said. “It has been a while since I had one.”

Fans had begun to grow uncomfortable with the Maple Leafs’ erratic start to the 2022-23 campaign. There had been a hitch in their giddy up floundered on the road with three especially ugly losses

“I think everyone was aware where we were heading to,” Aston-Reece said. “There was a little conversation among all of us about what we need to change.”

Keefe is in his third year as Toronto’s coach and in the first two his teams were spectacular in the regular season but faliled in the playoffs. Toronto has not won a a postseason series for six straight years. Most of that isn’t on Keefe but the failures each summer have created a cumulative burden.

Philadelphia head coach John Tortorella, for one, does not think Keefe’s job should be in jeopardy despite a tepid start. The two have a long relationship that dates back to 2001-03 when Keefe was a winger with Tampa Bay.

“I know from coaching him, watching him and coaching against him that he is a terrific coach,” Tortorella said outside the visitors’ dressing room before the game. “He doesn’t deserve some of the heat he has taken. You guys don’t have a clue what he has done for that team.”

Tortorella took over a floundering Lightning club in 2000 and within four years it won the Stanley Cup.

“When you first start coaching and have no idea what you are doing, you fall back on experiences you have had as a player,” Keefe said. “The most significant experience I had was to go through the process in Tampa when [John] took over.

“It was a team that was really struggling to find its way. It improved year over year and ultimately won. By that time the team was for too good for me to play for but I was part of the growth and the challenges and changes.

“To see that succeed sort of served as the foundation for me in coaching.”

Toronto can only dream of such success but a win after a tough losing streak is a nice – if perhaps temporary tonic.

After playing the Bruins on Saturday, they go to Carolina on Sunday and then are back home on Tuesday against the Vegas Golden Knights.