Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Samsonov, Marner, Tavares & Vesey

Last night’s Toronto Maple Leafs’ 7-0 revenge win over the Anaheim Ducks was a full-scale beatdown. Although Ilya Samsonov had to stop a number of tough chances during the game, including a clean breakaway, by the middle of the second period it was clear that the Maple Leafs would skate away with the victory. 

After the game, Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe shared with the media that, “Every single player on the game sheet was a plus-1 or better… It’s a good team win.” Indeed it was, even newcomer right-shot defenseman Conor Timmins had three assists and, in his four Maple Leafs’ games thus far, is a point-a-game player with his new team.

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In short, everything seemed to work on the night. In this edition of Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll share some of the key player news from the game. 

Item One: Is Ilya Samsonov the Best Goalie in the NHL?

Isn’t it a great feeling as fans to have two goalies good enough to be considered a number one goalie and to wonder which one might be the best? Matt Murray is likely still considered goalie 1A in the team’s system, but a strong case could be made for Samsonov as well. 

With his shutout win last night, Samsonov is now on a five-game winning streak (with two of those wins coming before he missed time rehabbing his knee injury). He also has two shutouts in succession. 

Samsonov’s record on the season in his 11 games is 9-2, and he’s currently leading all NHL goalies in two key statistics — goals-against average at 1.70 and save percentage at .939. He’s given up only 18 goals on 295 shots on the net.

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Samsonov, Tavares & Simmonds

That’s solid goalie play. In last night’s win over the Ducks, he stopped all 28 shots. This came after his 5-0 shutout win over the Los Angeles Kings last Thursday. The 25-year-old Russian, as coach Keefe noted, “has lots of personality… (and) is fun to be around and fun to talk to.” In total, Samsonov has only given up a single goal on 81 shots since he came back from his knee injury. 

Item Two: Mitch Marner Just Keeps on Trucking

As a Maple Leafs fan, the one thing I now track in every game is how soon Mitch Marner will register a point to extend his current streak. It took just under nine minutes last night for Marner to move that streak to 23 games. On the team’s second goal of the game, he dished a nice pass to a camped-out John Tavares who tapped it in from the doorstep.

Mitch Marner Toronto Maple Leafs
Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

On the night, Marner registered two assists in the 7-0 win. After the Tavares helper, he also added an assist on Michael Bunting’s second goal in two games. Marner now has scored 11 goals and 21 assists (for 32 points) during his current run. On the season, he’s now scored 12 goals and added 25 assists (for 37 total points) in the 30 games he’s played.

Item Three: Tavares Benefitting from Partnership with Marner

John Tavares scored a goal and added an assist last night. As noted, his goal came on a nifty net-front feed from Marner. He also added an assist (also with Marner) on Bunting’s second-period goal. 

Related: Maple Leafs Commentary: John Tavares, Aging & Holding His Own

The Maple Leafs’ captain has picked up his scoring pace after a bit of a recent cooldown, but he now has collected four points in his last four games. On the season, Tavares has scored 14 goals and added 16 assists (for 30 points) in his 30 regular-season games.

In 2018-19, which was his first season with the Maple Leafs, Tavares had a career season by scoring 47 goals partnering on a line with Marner. Although he’s been a consistent scorer for the Blue and White, he hasn’t hit 30 goals since that season. Currently, however, he’s tracking to reach the 30-goal plateau for the first time since that season.

Tavares and the team are benefitting from being reunited with Marner on the team’s second line. As well, the line change hasn’t slowed Marner down either. He also adds more defensive reliability to the second line, which helps the top six in general become more viable contributors as a group. 

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At the same time, Tavares hasn’t lost anything in the faceoff circle. He also brings a number of intangibles to the team as captain including a steady, calm locker-room voice and presence.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

Tomorrow night the Maple Leafs play in New York against the Rangers. Can Marner collect another point to hit his 24th consecutive game and keep his streak alive? 

With last night’s win, the Maple Leafs now have collected at least a point in 15 consecutive games. Can the team continue that streak? 

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The Maple Leafs also will meet up with former player Jimmy Vesey. Since he was claimed off waivers by the Vancouver Canucks in the 2020-21 season, he’s kicked around the NHL and has ended up back with the team he began with the Rangers. 

Jimmy Vesey Toronto Maple Leafs
Jimmy Vesey, when he was with the Toronto Maple Leafs
(Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

At one point this season, Vesey had been playing on the Rangers’ first line. However, he’d been on a five-game slump without a point. He did have an assist in his team’s 4-3 overtime win over the New Jersey Devils on Monday night (Dec. 12). For Maple Leafs fans who follow former players, Vesey has scored three goals and added six assists (for nine points) in 29 games on the season.