In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, we’ll take a look at some of the fallout from last night’s 4-3 loss to the Montreal Canadiens. It was far less than a good night for a team that hopes to make a run at the Stanley Cup this postseason.
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The Maple Leafs let this one slip through their fingers with a series of careless, sloppy mistakes. They will have a chance to turn things around tonight as they meet the Washington Capitals on home ice.
Item One: The State of the Goalies – Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov
During the preseason we wrote about how key the exhibition games were to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ goaltending situation. It was important for the team and both Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov that they not struggle during the preseason. Playing well was not a guaranteed precursor for the regular season; but, if they did struggle the added pressure of correcting that for when it counted was going to be a tough uphill battle.
Murray and Samsonov came through the preseason with flying colors, as they were both solid in their exhibition games. They came into the regular season on a high.
That high did not last long for Murray on Wednesday night as he gave up four goals on just 23 shots in Montreal in a 4-3 loss to the Canadiens, to post a 0.826 save percentage in the game. All the good Murray built up in the preseason is gone in one performance – even if it wasn’t all his fault. That now puts added pressure on him to have a bounce-back game against his old team the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night.
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Murray and Samsonov came into this season on an even footing in a battle for the starting job with the Maple Leafs. They maintained that even footing throughout training camp with neither goalie outplaying the other.
Now, Murray’s struggles against the Canadiens have opened to door for Samsonov. If he can play a solid game against his former team, the Washington Capitals on Thursday night, Samsonov will have the edge in claiming the starting role.
Item Two: The State of the Defensemen – Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl
We are sure that many Maple Leafs’ fans saw the reuniting of Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl with some apprehension following their struggles last season. It turns out they had good reason. Muzzin and Holl were on the ice 5-on-5 for six High-Danger Scoring Chances Against and only one High-Danger Chance For on Wednesday night.
Muzzin’s Expected-Goals For percentage was a dismal 22.5 percent. Holl’s wasn’t much better at 27.5 percent. Muzzin was on for, and played a role in, both of the two late goals scored by the Canadiens. Holl’s giveaway in the offensive zone started the sequence of events that led to the winning goal.
We’ll have to see if head coach Sheldon Keefe makes any defensive pairing changes for the Capitals’ game. It might be interesting to see Mark Giordano move up alongside Holl and Muzzin to pair with Rasmus Sandin.
Item Three: Denis Malgin Had a Successful Debut
Denis Malgin had a successful debut on the second line alongside John Tavares and William Nylander, scoring a goal and finishing the game at plus-2 in plus/minus. He had a solid game for his team.
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While the general consensus was that the second line needed a physical Michael Bunting-type player, it appeared, for one game at least, that a playmaker, puck-handling winger like Malgin could work.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
The Maple Leafs head home to take on the Washington Capitals in the second half of their season-opening, back-to-back games. Luckily for the Maple Leafs, it’s also a back-to-back for the Capitals as well. Washington lost 5-2 to the Boston Bruins in their home opener on Wednesday night.
We expect the only roster move that head coach Sheldon Keefe will make is between the pipes, as Samsonov is scheduled to replace Murray in goal. We might see some line juggling on defense as we mentioned above. The bottom six could see some retooling as well.
The Alex Kerfoot, Pierre Engvall, and Calle Janrkrok line had a good game versus the Canadiens. However, the David Kampf, Nicolas Aube-Kubel, and Zach Anton Reese line got caved pretty badly. The fourth line averaged only 14 percent in Shots For Percentage and 7.4 percent in Expected Goals.
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They were on-ice 5-on-5 for zero High Danger Scoring Chances For and three High Danger Scoring Chances Against. This line that we held so many high expectations for needs to become much better than it played last night.
[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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