Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Samsonov, Liljegren & Holmberg

In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll look at some of the changes the team is making as it prepares for tonight’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers are coming off a tough loss last night to the New York Rangers. There were zeroes on the board until overtime when the Rangers’ Chris Kreider scored with less than a minute left.

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Flyers’ goalie Carter Hart was amazing last night. During the game, he stopped 35 shots in that almost shutout.

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Tonight, Felix Sandstrom will draw in for the Flyers. Although the 25-year-old goalie has only a few NHL games, he’s played well enough. He has a goals-against-average of 3.20 and a save percentage of .907. However, his record is 0-6-1. The Maple Leafs will be looking to stop Sandstorm from gaining his first NHL win at their expense.

Item One: Ilya Samsonov Will Be in Goal Tonight

For some reason, yesterday at practice Erik Kallgren was reported to be getting first-goalie treatment. Yet today, after the team’s practice, the first goalie off the ice was Ilya Samsonov. That likely means, as the pattern has shown redundantly, that Samsonov will get the call in the net tonight.

Ilya Samsonov Toronto Maple Leafs
Ilya Samsonov, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Samsonov is looking to bounce back from two straight losses in which he allowed seven goals in 62 shots, for a save percentage of .887. Those two losses came after he had won his first four games of the season.

The word is also that Matt Murray is skating, so he’s getting closer to returning to the net. Even with Murray returning from his groin injury, in my mind, the 25-year-old Samsonov deserves to be considered the number one goalie until Murray proves otherwise. 

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Badini & Samsonov vs. Campbell

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What I’ve seen about Samsonov thus far has been positive. Who knows what his record might look like if the team were playing stronger in front of him? They haven’t to this point in the season.

Item Two: Pontus Holmberg Will Make His NHL Debut Tonight

The Maple Leafs called up young center Pontus Holmberg for tonight’s game yesterday. Holmberg basically trades roster spots with Wayne Simmonds, who was sent to the AHL Toronto Marlies at the same time. 

The word was that Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe had tried a number of different players at the center spot, but that the team wanted a “natural” center to play in the third-line spot. In his time with the Marlies this season, Holmberg had registered two assists in seven AHL games. 

Holmberg had a good training camp and preseason; and, to my eyes, played a calm, reliable, and solid 200-foot game. He’ll soon be a member of the roster full-time. Whether it’s this season or not remains to be seen.

Item Three: Wayne Simmonds Is Sent to the Marlies

Simmonds was reassigned to the AHL Marlies yesterday. Thus far this season, he had played three games with the Maple Leafs and had registered an assist. He was only averaging 7:47 minutes of ice time per game. 

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Because the 34-year-old veteran cleared waivers, he’ll probably bounce back and forth between the AHL and the NHL for the remainder of the season. It’s interesting that Simmonds has never played in the AHL. He jumped right from juniors (he was last with the Soo Greyhounds) in the 2007-08 season to the Los Angeles Kings for the 2008-09 season. He’s been in the NHL ever since.

Item Four: Timothy Liljegren Looks to Start on Saturday Night

Timothy Liljegren, who had been out after hernia surgery, practiced for the first time on Tuesday. Last week on Wednesday, both Liljegren and Jordie Benn took part in game action for the Marlies and both looked good. 

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For Liljegren, it was his first Marlies’ game since May 2021. Benn hadn’t played an AHL game since 2013 when he was with the Texas Stars. In that game, Liljegren was paired with NHL veteran Danny DeKeyser. Benn skated with AHL rookie Marshall Rifai. [I’ve read that Rifai has shown great potential.]

Liljegren saw tons of ice time in a Marlies 5-3 win over the Syracuse Crunch. As reported, Benn and Liljegren were “running like well-oiled machines.” In his two AHL games, Liljegren registered an assist.

Timothy Liljegren Toronto Maple Leafs
Timothy Liljegren, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

On Tuesday, he skated alongside Filip Kral on the team’s fourth pairing. He’s eligible to return to the lineup this weekend, and it looks as if he will draw in against the Boston Bruins on Saturday.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

As Elliotte Friedman reported in his 32 Thoughts Column, Maple Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas is looking for a defenseman. I had been hoping it might be Ethan Bear because I had watched him have some good seasons with the Edmonton Oilers when I lived there. 

Related: Answering the Maple Leafs Big Questions on Defense

However, Bear ended up with the Vancouver Canucks and played for the first time last night in the team’s loss to the New Jersey Devils. As Friedman reports, the Canucks were willing to include a draft pick that the Maple Leafs would not. 

Because the Arizona Coyotes have the right to take Toronto’s third-round draft choice this season, adding a draft pick (as the Canucks did) might have left the organization with just three choices in 2023.