Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Samsonov, Tavares & Who’s in Goal?

The Toronto Maple Leafs were outplayed but gutted one out on Monday night. The result was a 2-1 overtime win over the Florida Panthers. Despite being outshot 46-25, the Maple Leafs capitalized on their chances and earned a key victory. 

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The win was a turnaround from just two weeks ago when they lost to the Panthers in overtime despite outshooting them 40-29. The victory also ended the Panthers’ six-game winning streak. 

In this edition of Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll review some of the key player news from the game. I’ll also look at some of the issues with the team that has forced them into an amateur goalie situation.

Item One: Ilya Samsonov Had a Stellar Performance

Ilya Samsonov was the star of Monday’s game. He was outstanding in net, facing 46 shots and allowing just one goal. In the process, he outdueled Panthers goalie Alex Lyon who had won his last six starts. 

Samsonov’s play has been impressive. He’s allowed only four goals on 100 shots over his last three games, giving him a .960 save percentage and a 1.29 goals-against-average. Although Brandon Montour spoiled his shutout bid midway through the third period, Samsonov set a new season high in saves. 

Related: Ex-Maple Leafs’ Defenseman Jake Gardiner: Where Is He Now?

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Over his last six appearances, the 26-year-old Russian goalie has an amazing 1.54 goals-against-average and .949 save percentage, and a 3-1-2 record. The question is whether the team will shut him down for a stretch with a playoff berth already locked up. He probably should be, but the goalie/salary cap situation is unsettled.

Item Two: Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner Made Strong Contributions

Auston Matthews opened the scoring for the Maple Leafs with his 40th goal of the season and became the first Maple Leaf to score 40 goals in a season five times. 

Toronto Maple Leafs' Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews
Toronto Maple Leafs’ Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews

Marner also set a new personal single-season record with his 69th assist. He became the second Maple Leafs player to reach the 60-assist plateau three times. He also recorded his 99th point, and if he scores another, he’ll become the fourth player in franchise history to score 100 points in a season.

Item Three: John Tavares Scored the Overtime Game-Winner

John Tavares scored the game-winning goal in overtime, beating a tired Matthew Tkachuk to the puck and then going forehand-backhand to beat Lyon for the win. The goal came with just 22 seconds left in overtime.

Related: 12 of the Fastest Skaters Ever in the NHL

Although the official scorer credited the goal to Tavares with an assist from Morgan Rielly, Samsonov should also be given an assist. He had a crucial role in starting the play that led to the goal.

Item Four: Matthew Knies Looks Just Fine in His NHL Debut

Matthew Knies had a busy day after signing his entry-level contract (ELC) with the Maple Leafs. First, he traveled to Florida, then he passed an extensive medical. Although he wasn’t scheduled to play against the Panthers, he got the chance to make his NHL debut after Sam Lafferty came up with an undisclosed problem before the game. 

Despite not having practiced with the team, the 20-year-old forward handled himself well and played 13:09 minutes. Knies set up Mark Giordano for a one-timer at the point and dished the puck to Alex Kerfoot for an excellent scoring chance. 

Matthew Knies University of Minnesota
Matthew Knies, University of Minnesota (University of Minnesota Athletics)

Although he coughed up the puck twice in his own zone on the same shift in the second period, he didn’t look out of place overall. His future with the Maple Leafs looks promising. But will he make an appearance during the playoffs? 

Item Five: Another Amateur Goalie Contract for the Maple Leafs

The Maple Leafs’ recent struggle with Matt Murray’s injury has led to some creative solutions. On Monday night, they signed OHL goalie Nick Chenard to a one-game tryout as a backup against the Panthers. Fortunately, Samsonov was able to play the entire game.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Kerfoot Is More Than Worth His Salary

During the broadcast, there was some discussion about whether the Maple Leafs were circumventing the rules by signing a non-NHL goalie to a one-game tryout. However, for what it’s worth, the team attempted to secure permission from the league to use Woll as an emergency backup, but the league denied the request.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

Tonight, the Maple Leafs move over to Tampa to play the Lightning. The game means little, but the Dailey Faceoff has Samsonov noted as the goalie. I can’t believe that will happen. If he gets injured, uh oh.

From what I understand, the decision came down to leaving Woll in Toronto and signing Knies or bringing Woll on the road trip and not signing Knies until the regular season ended. The Maple Leafs chose the former. 

Joseph Woll Toronto Maple Leafs
Joseph Woll, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The truth is that, although Monday’s game didn’t affect the standings, had they played an amateur goalie against the Panthers, the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins would have been livid as they fight for their playoff lives. For tonight’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, no one will really care much who plays in net for Toronto. That is unless Samsonov plays and is injured.