Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Samsonov, Matthews, Marner & ZAR

Had Wednesday’s game ended one minute sooner, the Toronto Maple Leafs would have beaten the Florida Panthers again by a score of 2-1. Alas, the game went the full 60 minutes and then into overtime when the Panthers desperately pushed a goal over Ilya Samsonov in the dying seconds. 

Florida came away with a 3-2 overtime win. The team that most needed to win did, and the Maple Leafs probably didn’t change a thing with the loss. The single point pushed them six points up on the Tampa Bay Lightning, with a game in hand and eight games remaining. 

Rather than bemoan the loss, here are four things Maple Leafs fans should be happy about from the game. 

First, Ilya Samsonov‘s performance in the net was solid after returning from the birth of his first child. Second, Auston Matthews is looking like a Hart Trophy winner again. 

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Third, Jake McCabe and TJ Brodie are now the team’s number-one defensive pairing, and they continue to improve. Fourth, the team’s fourth line of Zach Aston-Reese and David Kampf has found chemistry. ZAR gave the team eight and a half minutes of really tough hockey against the Panthers.

Item One: Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner Are on Their Games

Matthews scored his 37th goal of the season on Wednesday to extend his point streak to seven games. In that span, he has six goals and five assists (for 11 points). He’s also taken a whopping 41 shots on goal.

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Matthews is hitting his stride just in time for the playoffs. There’s no doubt that he’s a talented goal scorer with an impressive shot, and his recent success is only surprising because we all expected it sooner this season.  

Mitch Marner is also playing exceptionally well, putting up an 11-game point streak himself. Of course, fans are tempering their optimism. They’ve seen this all before, and their two top players have failed to perform at the same level in the postseason.

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However, the supporting cast is stronger this season. That said, if Toronto wants to make a deep playoff run, the offensive production from Matthews and Marner will be critical. They must become leaders.

Item Two: Ilya Samsonov Returns with Strong Game

After being away for the birth of his child, Ilya Samsonov started against Florida. The good news is that his struggles from the March 21 game, when he gave up six goals on 28 shots, have disappeared.

Ilya Samsonov Toronto Maple Leafs
Ilya Samsonov, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

He played well enough that, despite a save percentage of less than .900, he was named the game’s third star. Samsonov allowed three goals on 29 shots, but he was sharp. He seems to be the team’s clear choice to start in the playoffs.

Item Three: Aston-Reese Gave the Maple Leafs Great (but Minimal) Minutes

Aston-Reese has been playing exceptionally well recently. On Wednesday, he scored a goal, took five shots on goal, and delivered three hits in just over eight minutes of ice time. The better news is that this type of performance is becoming more common, playing his best hockey of the season lately. 

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Despite playing on the fourth line, Aston-Reese has scored eight goals this season – nine is his career single-season high. Yet, he’s been instrumental in making the fourth line a threat.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

The team’s March schedule is now over. The Maple Leafs won seven games and lost seven games, not including overtime losses. They also had some struggles. According to Natural Stat Trick, the Maple Leafs controlled just 41.82% of the expected goals at five-on-five since the start of March. That ranks them 29th in the NHL, which is surprising.

The question is whether these analytics will impact the postseason. Is it concerning, or is it just that the team is working the new players into the lineup? The playoffs are a different beast altogether, and we’ll see soon enough.

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