The Toronto Maple Leafs meet the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday night. The Hurricanes have won five of their last seven games and rank third in the NHL in shots per game. The Maple Leafs are looking to win their final game of a three-game homestand after losing the first two games to the Colorado Avalanche and the Buffalo Sabres.
In the Maple Leafs’ last game, a 2-1 shootout loss to the Avs on Wednesday, Ilya Samsonov was outstanding. On the night, he saved 28 of 29 shots. However, Toronto’s offence struggled, especially during overtime and in the shootout.
The team didn’t register a shot on goal during overtime, nor could William Nylander, Auston Matthews, or Mitchell Marner score in the shootout. In fact, only one player put a shot on the goalie during the shootout: Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly, who scored his team’s only goal.
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In this edition of Maple Leafs’ News and Rumors, I’ll take a look at news about the game as well as other news emerging from the organization.
Item One: Ilya Samsonov Gets Tonight’s Start
Samsonov will get the start tonight against the Hurricanes, as the first goalie off the ice during the team’s morning skate. As noted, in his last game, he allowed one goal on 29 shots for a .966 save percentage, but lost in a shootout against the Avalanche.
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Despite this loss, Samsonov has had a successful season. He has put together a 23-8-3 record, a 2.36 goals-against-average, and a .916 save percentage. He’s especially good on home ice.
Item Two: Luke Schenn Will Play Tonight
After missing the last four games for personal reasons, Luke Schenn is set to return to the lineup against Carolina. The defenseman was awaiting the birth of his child in Vancouver and missed the last four Maple Leafs’ games.
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Schenn will play on the second unit alongside Jake McCabe. Schenn has three goals and 18 assists (for 21 points) in his 57 NHL games this season.
Item Three: Matthews and Marner Given a Day Off
Against the Avalanche, both Mitch Marner (29:10) and Auston Matthews (26:52) put up season highs in ice time and were given Thursday’s practice off for rest.
Head coach Sheldon Keefe noted that, while both players wanted to be on the ice, he needs to manage their workload to keep them fresh for games down the stretch.
Item Four: Dmitry Ovchinnikov Is on His Way to Toronto
Dmitry Ovchinnikov, a 20-year-old Russian left-winger, was drafted by the Maple Leafs in the fifth round (#137 overall) of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. Last February, Ovchinnikov signed an entry-level deal with the Maple Leafs and played seven games with the Marlies last season, scoring two goals.
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This season, he played his first full season in the KHL with Novosibirsk Sibir. However, he wasn’t able to get the kind of consistent ice time he needed to improve his skills. He only managed five goals and eight assists (for 13 points) in 68 games.
As a result, he recently terminated his contract with Sibir and flew to Canada to join the Maple Leafs organization. He’s an offence-first player, so giving him a chance to play in a top-six role should be beneficial.
Because he was under contract and loaned to the KHL, he’s used up two years of his entry-level deal, and his cap hit for next season will be $835,000.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
The Tampa Bay Lightning are close behind the Maple Leafs in the race for home-ice advantage, which is crucial, especially against Tampa Bay. The Lightning have an impressive home record of 24-6-0, which would give them a significant advantage in the playoffs. However, their road record of 17-16-1 is not as good. The Maple Leafs have a similar split between their home record of 24-7-5 and their road record of 16-11-4.
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Keefe recognizes the need to win because he’s starting Samsonov tonight in the net. The Maple Leafs must put some distance between themselves and the Lightning. It isn’t the time for the team to take its foot off the gas pedal.