Andreas Johnsson was down on himself earlier this season for his lack of finish around the opposition net.
That wasn’t a problem Saturday.
The second-year winger’s first career hat trick — before the game was 13 minutes old — led an early barrage as the Leafs thumped the Philadelphia Flyers 6-0.
“That’s how hockey is,” said Johnsson, who entered with two goals in 18 games after scoring twice in nine appearances as a rookie in 2017-18. “Sometimes you miss all your chances, sometimes you score.
“Everything went in.”
John Tavares, Patrick Marleau and Josh Leivo had the other goals for Toronto (16-8-0). Backup goalie Garret Sparks made 35 saves for his first shutout of the season and the second of his career. Mitch Marner added two assists.
“(Johnsson) and Sparky led the way today,” Tavares said. “Got off to a hell of a start.”
Calvin Pickard, who was claimed by the Flyers off waivers from Toronto before the start of the season, allowed four goals on six shots for Philadelphia (10-11-2) before getting the hook.
Anthony Stolarz stopped 32 of 34 shots in relief.
“We’ve got to own it,” Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. “We’ve got to own it as a group.”
Coming off back-to-back road losses, including Friday’s 4-2 decision in Columbus, the Leafs built a 4-0 lead by 12:20 of the first period.
Johnsson got things going at 4:45 when he faked a slapshot off the rush and slid the puck between Pickard’s pads.
The 24-year-old made it 2-0 just 1:34 later when he blocked a point shot and then beat Pickard on a breakaway for another five-hole goal.
“Any time you’ve been a real good player in the minors and come to the (NHL), you’re just trying to find your way,” Leafs head coach Mike Babcock said. “You’ve got to earn confidence.”
Marleau stretched the advantage to three at 7:44 when he fired his fifth into an open net off a scramble after a poor Philadelphia clearing attempt.
Pickard’s teammate with the Calder Cup-winning Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League last season, Johnsson completed his hat trick on another shot through the goalie’s legs from in tight after stealing the puck from a Flyers defender.
“It kind of felt unreal,” Johnsson said. “I had the first goal, then the second goal and, all of a sudden, the third one. I’m like, ‘What’s going on?”‘
That ended the night for Pickard, who was coming off a 31-save shutout in Philadelphia’s 4-0 victory over the New York Rangers on Friday that snapped the Flyers’ four-game skid.
Toronto, which had fallen behind 2-0 in the first period in each of its last three games, could have easily scored a couple more times before the period was out. But Stolarz, the fifth goalie to see action for the injury-riddled Flyers already this season, made two big stops on Marleau and another off Tavares on a breakaway.
Sparks, who got the start in place of No. 1 netminder Frederik Andersen, made a nice save on a Shayne Gostisbehere one-timer midway through the second as the game settled down following Toronto’s frantic opening.
“It was just really special seeing Picks out there,” Sparks said of his former AHL teammate. “There were definitely times when we both doubted if we’d find our way back to this league.
“I was just happy we came out as fast as we did.”
Leivo made it 5-0 with his third at 11:07 on an odd-man rush when he beat Stolarz off a slick feed from Marner.
Kasperi Kapanen hit the post a few minutes later for the Leafs, but Tavares eventually made it 6-0 with his 15th, firing a loose puck upstairs after Marner toe-dragged around two defenders at 17:10.
Saturday marked the return to Toronto of Flyers winger James van Riemsdyk, who played six seasons in blue and white before signing a five-year, US$35-million contract with Philadelphia on July 1.
Honoured with a first-period video tribute Saturday, the 29-year-old scored 154 goals in 413 games with Toronto, including a career- and team-high 36 last season.
It wasn’t the return he was hoping for.
“That was not a good game for us at all,” van Riemsdyk said. “We’ve got to find a way to consistently start games better.”