Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Samsonov, Mete, Sandin & Engvall

In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll take a quick look at last night’s game as well as report some of the news leading up to tonight’s second game of a home-and-home series with the Detroit Red Wings. 

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You can never accuse Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe of worrying about testing his charges. Last night’s game was one where he threw his young players to the wolves; and, they almost won. The final score was 4-2 in favour of Detroit.

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The Maple Leafs’ team that was iced was far faster than the Red Wings and played with a ton of energy. They just needed more size and more experience. However, as I note below, they didn’t need a better goalie. All in all, coach Keefe had to have learned a lot about his young players. 

Item One: Ilya Samsonov Shines in Loss to Red Wings

Last night’s game was not a game anyone should have expected the young Maple Leafs to win. Actually, when I saw the lineup yesterday I wondered in my post how the goalie would fare. While I was anxious (in a good way) to watch the game, I knew it could have been a blowout. 

In short, the young Maple Leafs played much better than expected against NHL-level players. Coach Keefe had to know what he was doing, and he used the game to test his youngsters. They looked faster than their opponents but much less experienced.

Ilya Samsonov Washington Capitals
Ilya Samsonov, then of the Washington Capitals (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

But the player who really stood out for me was goalie Ilya Samsonov. I read in one game review that his saves were so good that they generated a buzz on the bench and growing confidence among the team. That’s an awfully good sign. 

In truth, the young Maple Leafs were overmatched in size, experience, and perhaps even talent. But they were not out-goalied. In fact, the Red Wings generated a number of high-quality chances that Samsonov was able to flick aside. He often made it look easy. 

Perhaps making it look easy is a combination of Samsonov’s confidence and his athleticism. He’s looked nothing like a castoff to me in any of the preseason games I’ve seen. He carried a large group of soon-to-be Toronto Marlies to an almost win. I watched the game highlights from a Detroit feed, and the Red Wings’ announcers admitted it was a well-contested game.

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The box score won’t look good for him, but once again Samsonov stepped up to make big save after big save. If this kind of play continues from Samsonov (as it has from Matt Murray as well), the Maple Leafs’ goalie situation is well taken care of.

Item Two: Victor Mete Hurt by Nick Robertson Shot in Practice

The Maple Leafs’ Victor Mete did not play in the 4-2 loss to the Red Wings last night because he was hit by a shot from Nick Robertson’s stick during Friday’s practice. He was a game-time decision but didn’t play. 

Victor Mete Ottawa Senators
Victor Mete, last season with the Ottawa Senators (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Fortunately, the X-Rays were negative and Mete has what amounts to a big bruise. It’s painful but not debilitating. It also means he could play in tonight’s game against these same Red Wings, but that will be decided just before game time.

Item Three: Rasmus Sandin Plays First Game and Looks Great

It’s only been a week since Rasmus Sandin signed his two-year contract with the Maple Leafs and already he was in a preseason game. Fortunately, it didn’t take the Swedish defenseman too long to travel from his home country to Canada. He even took part in a couple of practices. 

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All that said, except for looking a bit gassed in the game, Sandin was really solid. There was even a time when he was shown celebrating a goal with Nick Robertson; and, although Robertson doesn’t stand that tall on the ice, I thought that Sandin looked much bigger than he was last season. Did he bulk up a bit?

Last season’s knee injury did not seem to be any bother at all. In total, coach Keefe threw him into the game full-time and Sandin ended up playing 22:32. The fact that he played power-play time added to his TOI.

Rasmus Sandin Toronto Maple Leafs
Rasmus Sandin, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

After the game, Sandin announced that he was ready for more. “I want to go out and play another game now. I felt I grew into it.” (from “Young Maple Leafs team loses, but keep it close with Detroit Red Wings,” Lance Hornby, Toronto Sun, 07/10/2022). 

Sandin admitted that he feels as if he’s struggling in camp with his “hands, and getting that going.” Coach Keefe noted that his goal was to drop Sandin “right in and take on this load today in ice time and challenge … it was important for him to have that workload tonight because he has to make up for lost time.”

Related: Maple Leafs’ Game 1 Win Was Keefe’s Best Coaching Performance

The best guess is that, whenever the final cuts are made, Liljegren’s recovery from his hernia surgery will place Sandin on a pairing with veteran Mark Giordano. That likely means Sandin will play right-side defence until Liljegren returns.

What’s New for the Maple Leafs?

Two things are new for the Maple Leafs. Both Pierre Engvall and Jake Muzzin will play in tonight’s game. 

There’s good news that Pierre Engvall’s ankle injury is sufficiently healed to allow him to play tonight in the second home-and-home game in Toronto. This will be Engvall’s first preseason game and he’s only had a few practices during this past week. Engvall had his best season with 15 goals and 20 assists in 2021-22.

Jake Muzzin Toronto Maple Leafs
Jake Muzzin, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Jake Muzzin will also play tonight. Muzzin didn’t call his “predicament” an injury, but he’s been dealing with back discomfort during training camp. Muzzin will use tonight’s game as a tune-up for the regular season. Last season, he only played just more than half of the games (47) and scored three goals and added 14 assists in those games.

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