Maple Leafs Commentary: Advantage Samsonov & Sandin’s New Job

In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs Commentary, we’ll look at the battle of the two goalies after a game each. Second, we’ll assess how well Rasmus Sandin is playing in quite a different role this season than before. 

Related: Current Maple Leafs Goaltenders a Step Down from Last Season

Third, we’ll look at some surprising tough love distributed to first-line winger Michael Bunting from his head coach. Finally, we’ll look at a new element of Auston Matthews’ game – the physical side.

Item One: Battle of the Goalies Round One

If the first two starts were to be considered round one in the battle for the #1 goalie of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the round has to go to Ilya Samsonov over Matt Murray.  

Matt Murray Toronto Maple Leafs
Matt Murray, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

If we simply look at the stat line for each player’s games we see that Murray stopped 19 of 23 shots against him in 59 minutes of play in the game against the Montreal Canadiens. Samsonov stopped 24 of 26 shots in 60 minutes of action against the Washington Capitals.

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Here is how those numbers break down:

GoalieSave PercentageGoals-Against Average
Ilya Samsonov.9232.00
Matt Murray.8264.05

By the eye test, we also have to say that Samsonov was the better of the two. Despite giving up two goals in the first period, including one stinker, he looked much calmer in the net and got better as the game progressed. 

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Murray’s game went in a completely different direction. He started out strong, posting a shutout in the first period before allowing four goals in his last two periods including two goals on the last two shots he faced with the game on the line. 

While this is only one game each, it is definitely advantage Samsonov.

Item Two: Sandin Not Looking Too Bad in New Role   

Rasmus Sandin has lots of excuses to fail to start this season. He missed all but the last week of training camp and only played in two exhibition games. Then he gets thrown into a back-to-back game situation playing on his wrong side, a position he has played very little in the NHL. No one would blame him if he struggled. 

Rasmus Sandin Toronto Maple Leafs
Rasmus Sandin, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

He has actually looked pretty good all things considered. He has played a total of 28:58 of ice time, notching one assist and going plus two in plus/minus. According to at five-on-five, Sandin has been on ice for 51.6% of the shots taken, and 53.3% of the scoring chances. 

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However, Sandin hasn’t fared as well for Expected Goals (48.6%) and has been on ice for three more High Danger Chances Against than For (7 against, 4 for), which is not great. That said, he has yet to be on the ice for a single opposition goal against.

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Sandin has played sheltered minutes and has the benefit of playing alongside an excellent mentor in Mark Giordano. He has been far from perfect, has gotten caught out of position, and has been flat-footed a few times. All in all, however, he hasn’t played all that badly.  

Item Three: Michael Bunting Restored to Full-time Role

Sheldon Keefe must be serious about his expectations. As far as we can recall, Michael Bunting hasn’t been on the receiving end of coach Keefe’s tough love before. But that was the case in Wednesday’s game against the Montreal Canadiens. Looking at his TOI numbers, Bunting played only 12:58 in Montreal. 

Michael Bunting Toronto Maple Leafs
Michael Bunting, Toronto Maple Leafs (Richard Lautens/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Coach Keefe benched Bunting during the second period after he blindly threw a pass that the Canadiens intercepted and turned into a goal. Fortunately, coach Keefe upped Bunting’s minutes in Thursday’s game. Bunting responded with some physical play; and, better yet, he kept his play simple.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

Auston Matthews had a strong game on Thursday night scoring the game-winner on a great “pass” from Mark Giordano. Actually, Matthews was alone in front of the net when a Giordano point shot bounced off Charlie Lindgren’s blocker. Matthews deflected the shot in so quickly that it took several minutes for anyone to realize it was his goal.

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Matthews was in the middle of the action all night long, and showed a physical streak. He collected five hits on the night. Will the physical play become part of the Hart Trophy winners game this season? 

If so, that’s going to be a treat to watch.

[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]

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