Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson very nearly cracked a smile Thursday night after his club defeated the rival Philadelphia Flyers.
Wilson had just been asked about the line he put together this week featuring newly recalled rookie centre Tyler Bozak alongside slumping sniper Phil Kessel and Nikolai Kulemin.
The trio was instrumental in two of Toronto’s goals as the Leafs downed the surprisingly meek Flyers, 4-0, to snap a four-game losing streak.
Bozak scored his first NHL goal in spectacular fashion to spot the Leafs to a 1-0 lead at 8:44 in the second period. He also picked up an assist and, more importantly, seems to be helping to lift Kessel out of a funk. Kessel failed to score for the seventh straight game, but he picked up two assists and now has recorded points in three straight games. Kulemin scored Toronto’s second goal.
“Bozy’s a very smart centreman, and as he goes along he’s probably going to get a lot stronger too,” Wilson said. “You can see how smart he is. He’s quick, and his skill-set matches up pretty well with Phil. And Kuly’s done an unbelievable job running down pucks and banging, blocking shots and doing a lot of detail work and that doesn’t get recognized.”
The loss ended a four-game win streak for the Flyers, who fell to 23-20,3, while Toronto improved to 16-23-9.
Surprisingly, there were no fights in a game which featured two clubs with a history of bad blood.
Newly recalled tough guy Jay Rosehill went after defenceman Ole-Kristian Tollefsen in the dying minutes of the third, but he was slapped only with a couple of roughing penalties. Wilson said that, after being spanked 6-2 by the Flyers on Jan. 6, which began their four-game skid, the Leafs were more concerned about two points last night than pounding the Flyers into a pulp, even though Rosehill wasn’t recalled for his goal-scoring prowess, though he did pick up an assist.
In the Jan. 6 game, Flyers winger Dan Carcillo infuriated the Leafs when he made some classless gestures after scoring a goal.
“But we didn’t go into the game with any revenge in mind other than beating them on the scoreboard,” Wilson said.
Wilson believes that the Bozak-Kessel combination is a natural fit because they both posses good speed. Kessel is enthusiastic about playing alongside the centre.
“He likes to pass the puck, so he thinks pass first,” Kessel said. “So I think we’ll get along pretty well.”
The Flyers were 8-1-1 in their past 10 heading into last night’s game and had scored the first goal in all 10. Last night, however, it was the Leafs who drew first blood on Bozak’s goal, as he took a pass from Kessel and danced around Tollefsen before putting the puck high, glove-side past Flyers goaltender Michael Leighton.
Defenceman Luke Schenn and Lee Stempniak also scored. Goaltender Vesa Toskala made 38 saves for the shutout.
The Leafs penalty killing, ranked dead-last in the NHL, was perfect, as the Flyers went 0-for-4 on the power play.