Many Toronto Maple Leafs’ fans were less than enamoured with the two goalie choices and the goalie re-do the organization engaged in during the offseason.
Their bones of contention were that Matt Murray was injury-prone. As for Ilya Samsonov, he’d never lived up to his potential. He wasn’t even good enough for the Washington Capitals to qualify as an RFA the last off-season.
Sadly, Maple Leafs’ fans who called Murray’s injury got it right. But, thus far, they’ve been wrong about Samsonov.
Comparing Ilya Samsonov to Jack Campbell and Frederik Andersen
I know it’s early in the season. Still, after Thursday’s game in Edmonton where the two former Maple Leafs’ goalies went at each other – Jack Campbell (in the Edmonton Oilers’ net) and Frederik Andersen (in the Carolina Hurricanes’ net) – while Samsonov also tended his Maple Leafs’ team to a 3-2 win over the Dallas Stars, it seemed a good time to look at a comparison between these three goalies on the season.
When looked at together, where do the three goalies stand up statistically against each other this early in the season? The critical phrase is early, but looking at the numbers is still fun.
So far, Ilya Samsonov is holding his own.
The Three Goalies’ Records After Three Games Each
In the three games he’s played, Samsonov has put together a record of 3-0-0, a 1.96 goals-against-average, and a .927 save percentage. Andersen has put together a record of 2-1-0, a 2.35 goals-against-average, and a .920 save percentage. Campbell has put together a 2-1 record, a 5.08 goals-against-average, and a .874 save percentage.
Samsonov Has Done This Before, Can He Keep It Up?
It’s not like Samsonov hasn’t played well before. He has experienced success. The question is if he can hold it together for an entire season, especially if he’s the number one option and is getting a ton of starts.
His reputation is that, when the second half of the season comes, if he’s played as a starter his wheels begin to fall off. Obviously, that’s no different from the entire Maple Leafs’ team. Where will it end up when the season’s over?
The real test isn’t at the beginning, it’s at the end.
Looking at Samsonov’s History, Playing Full-time Will Be New
Will it be an issue that Samsonov has never played many games per season as a professional? In the KHL with Magnitogorsk Metallurg, in three seasons he played 19, 27, and 26 games. With the AHL’s Hershey Bears, he played 37 games.
With his last NHL team the Washington Capitals, he played 26, 19 and 44 games. Although he’s never been asked to do it, could he survive and prosper playing up to 55 games as a starter this season?
He has the tools. The 25-year-old Samsonov is big, strong, athletic, and mobile. There’s no question about his athleticism. The question will be if he’s reliable enough to consistently keep up this level of play over the season.
Perhaps Samsonov’s temperament will be a key; and, honestly, we don’t know much about that yet. What we do know is that Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe is pleased with his two goalies.
What Coach Keefe Likes About Samsonov
Before the season began (and obviously before Matt Murray was injured), Keefe seemed pumped about the two goalies who came during the offseason.
Keefe noted that (about Samsonov particularly), “Samsonov was a high first-round pick and performed as a starting goalie in the playoffs last year. We have two guys who really give us confidence there.”
Keefe added that “We had to really work with them to get them feeling good through the offseason and into training camp. They have delivered everything we have asked of them. Now, things are going to step up to another level. We have to do our part as coaches and as a team in front of them to protect them and give them every opportunity to succeed.”
Is Keefe’s Confidence Justified?
Now the question is whether Keefe’s confidence in Samsonov is well-founded. Although he was hesitant to compare Samsonov (and Murray) with his goalies of the past – which is what I did to begin this post – Keefe noted: “(they) give me and our team confidence coming into the season.”
Let’s hope he’s right.