Maple Leafs’ Samsonov Has a 2-Game Tumble – Blip or Concern?

After Thursday’s Toronto Maple Leafs’ victory over the Philadelphia Flyers, this season’s new Maple Leafs’ goalie Ilya Samsonov now carries a goals-against average (GAA) of 2.07 and a save percentage (SV%) of .924. That’s good, but it isn’t as good as it was just two games previously. 

Prior to meeting his former Washington Capitals team on the road just a week ago today, Samsonov had crafted two shutouts in a row. At that time, he also had the best goalie statistics in the NHL sporting a GAA of 1.70 and a SV% of .939. 

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On the morning of Dec. 17, the 25-year-old Russian goalie was on a five-game winning streak. He hadn’t lost a game since Nov. 2. It was easy for Maple Leafs’ fans who had watched him play to believe that his signing during the offseason was one of general manager’s best moves ever – a stroke of genius. 

Samsonov Now Has Hiccuped in Two Straight Games

Until that Capitals’ game, Samsonov had faced 295 shots on the season and had only surrendered 18 goals. That changed against Washington. Perhaps it was a momentary set of nerves; perhaps it was just an off game. But Samsonov had his poorest game of the season, as he gave up five goals and his team lost, 5-2. 

Toronto Maple Leafs Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov
Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov (The Hockey Writers)

More interestingly, Samsonov had given up those five goals on only 28 shots. All goalies have off games, but that’s not what Maple Leafs’ fans had become used to with the 25-year-old Russian goalie.

Then, on Thursday against the Flyers, Samsonov hiccuped again. He was cruising along and had given up only a goal in two and a half periods when the Flyers jumped on a mistake and scored their second goal of the game. They turned on the pressure and, in less than 90 seconds, they scored again. Both goals slid through Samsonov’s five-hole. These were two iffy goals; both he probably should have stopped.

Samsonov Was Looking for a Bounceback, It Wasn’t There

Obviously, Samsonov was looking to bounce back after his poor showing against Washington. The bad news is that he didn’t do that. Still, there was good news. He got the win. And with that win, he set a Maple Leafs’ franchise record of winning nine straight home games to start the season. That’s good, too.

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Oddly, Samsonov hasn’t lost on home ice this season. However, he also hasn’t yet won while playing on the road.

Does This Remind Anyone of Jack Campbell Last Season?

So, looking at Samsonov’s last two games, the question could be asked if this is a temporary stumble by the Maple Leafs’ new goalie or whether this might be the beginning of a downward fall. 

Given what I’ve seen about Samsonov, I’m not worried… yet. However, it does remind me of last season with now-departed Jack Campbell. Have the Maple Leafs been down this road before with a goalie?

Jack Campbell Toronto Maple Leafs
Jack Campbell started last season on fire for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
(Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Just last season (and about this time), Maple Leafs’ fans were agog about Campbell. He was, given his play over the first third of last season, certainly a Vezina Trophy candidate. He made the NHL All-Star team. He was playing lights-out hockey.

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At that point in his career, Campbell was as good a goalie as anyone could have wanted. He even made die-hard fans forget that Frederik Andersen had been allowed to leave and head to the Carolina Hurricanes. He was save-for-save keeping up with Andersen.

Things Can Change Quickly for NHL Goalies

How quickly things can change for an NHL team and its goalies. Those who follow Campbell’s career know that the Maple Leafs let him walk without coming close to his signing ask. With some fanfare, Campbell signed a long-term contract with the Edmonton Oilers

But it hasn’t been a good 2022-23 regular season for him. He was supposed to come in and carry the starting role. However, he hasn’t. Stuart Skinner is doing the bulk of the heavy lifting for the Oilers. In 15 games with the Oilers, Campbell’s record is 8-6-1. He has a GAA of 4.02 and his SV% is .876. The worm has turned for Campbell.

Is There a Similarity Between Campbell and Samsonov?

Has the worm also turned for Samsonov? Over the first quarter of this regular season, Samsonov looked like the steal of the offseason. The truth is that he might still turn out to be just that. He’s looked good all season, until the past two games.

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Samsonov has certainly played at a high level. He’s been consistently good for the Maple Leafs and the same can be said about his goalie partner Murray. So far, almost every time either of these two players man the crease they give their team a chance to win.

The State of Maple Leafs’ Goalie Success This Season

Heading into this regular season, the question of whether the Maple Leafs’ goalies could hold up over the course of an 82-game regular season was THE big question of the season. The answer to that question is: so far, so good.

The Maple Leafs went out on a limb to sign these two goalies. Both were seen as reclamation projects. Both Murray and Samsonov were goalies coming off difficult seasons and had something to prove. They were motivated. 

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Thus far, both new goalies have been impressive. They’ve been at the top of the NHL’s goalies this year. Will that continue or could Samsonov’s last two games be the beginning of a slide? 

Will Samsonov Bounce Back?

Now what? Will Samsonov bounce back from his two-game issues? Can he find the form he had shown early in the season? Is he a potential Vezina Trophy candidate or will he fall victim to Campbell’s fate? Can the goalie tandem of Samsonov and Murray build the kind of momentum that can help this Maple Leafs’ team take the next step to a long playoff journey? It’s possible.

If Samsonov can bounce back and help lead this team forward, he’s due a much larger contract than the $1.8 million he’s currently getting for this season. But that’s a problem for another time.

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