Last night, the Toronto Maple Leafs beat a tough Carolina Hurricanes team by a score of 5-2. Despite the high score, the game had a playoff feel to it. Tonight, the Maple Leafs head to Ottawa on their back-to-back to play the Senators.
It could be an interesting game between the Maple Leafs and the Senators. Despite their recent struggles, the Senators have shown that they can be a dangerous team when they’re playing well. Wayne Simmonds will be in the Maple Leafs’ lineup tonight, so there must be some anticipation (or potential) for physical play.
As the Maple Leafs continue to battle for the home-ice advantage, winning games remains crucial. The Senators will be looking to get back on track and keep their playoff hopes alive, and the Maple Leafs will be looking to continue their push toward the postseason.
Item One: Ilya Samsonov Warmed Up as the Game Went On
Ilya Samsonov had a shaky start in goal against the Hurricanes, allowing a bit of a stinker for Carolina’s first goal of the game. It simply somehow went through him. However, he made some tough saves as the game progressed. Once the Maple Leafs had built up a 3-1 lead, he looked unbeatable.
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Does Samsonov need to make a great save to get his focus in some games? After allowing the Hurricanes’ first goal, he stretched to make a beautiful pad save. That save seemed to bring him back to his normal self. The same thing happened in the Edmonton game a week ago. He gave questionable goals early, but after making an amazing stop he was fine.
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Maple Leafs fans know that Samsonov’s impressive at home this season. He now has an 18-2-2 record at Scotiabank Arena. That’s an astounding 0.864 percent winning percentage, which is better than some goalies’ save percentage.
Item Two: Zach Aston-Reese Scores Two Goals
Zach Aston-Reese stepped up offensively on Friday night. While he’s known more for his defensive play and checking assignments, if he can add to the scoring it would add another dimension to his game and make him even more valuable to the team.
When you look at his history, scoring was once part of Aston-Reese’s skill set. In his last season at Northeastern University, in 38 games he scored 31 goals and added 32 assists (for 63 points). He’s hugged his fair share of teammates.
Aston-Reese’s chemistry with Sam Lafferty is also a positive sign. One improvement in this season’s team is how well the team’s depth players are developing strong connections and contributing to the team’s success. That undefinable concept of chemistry is being demonstrated nightly on the ice.
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The team’s depth players will be important contributors as the team heads into the playoffs. Obviously, the stars will get the attention, but the depth players might make a difference in close games to help the team win. If players like Aston-Reese and Lafferty continue to play with confidence and contribute offensively, that’s a deal.
Item Three: Mitch Marner’s Passing Sets Up His Scoring
Mitch Marner has emerged even more centrally as a key player for this Maple Leafs’ team. He’s showing impressive playmaking abilities and the ability to score clutch goals. Friday’s game was no exception.
Marner created a beautiful 2-on-1 opportunity with Michael Bunting and surprised the Hurricanes’ goalie by taking the shot himself. Because his MO is mostly to dish off the puck, he’s starting to deceive opponents and create scoring chances for himself. That skill is making him more of a standout player on the team, but is also increasing his favor with the fan base.
Item Four: Changes for Tonight’s Game Against the Senators
The Maple Leafs will be making some changes to their roster against the Senators on Saturday. They’ll be going back to their usual 12 forwards and six defensemen setup, with Simmonds and another forward coming in and Justin Holl returning to the lineup. Holl was a healthy scratch on Friday.
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Unfortunately, Noel Acciari will be out due to his injury. Matt Murray is scheduled to start in net for the Senators.
Item Five: Noel Acciari Won’t Play Tonight – When He’s Back, Who Knows?
The Maple Leafs have to be a little concerned after Acciari took a blow to the head/jaw from Jesse Puljujarvi last night. Acciari left Friday’s game as a precautionary measure and did not return.
He won’t play against Ottawa tonight and it’s unclear when he might return. He’s been a revelation for the Maple Leafs.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
What an odd team these Maple Leafs are. Although it’s important for them to take care of business against the teams they’re expected to beat, they don’t always do it. The team should be fighting hard to ensure the home-ice advantage for the playoffs. While they’ve struggled at times against lower-ranked teams this season, they’ve also shown they beat top teams like the Carolina Hurricanes, the Edmonton Oilers, and the New Jersey Devils.
Regardless of their opponent, the team needs to bring its A-game every night to stay in second place in the Atlantic Division. Tonight is not the night to take the Senators lightly.