What a difference the first 10 games of the regular season can make for the Toronto Maple Leafs. When the season started, the big question for the Maple Leafs was whether the goalie play from newcomers Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov would hold up.
There was never a question about whether Auston Matthews or Mitch Marner would score. That was taken for granted. Funny how that works.
Today, 10 games into the season, Matthews and Marner are not playing to expectations. Ironically, their slow start hides the fact that there have been some solid performances happening in the place where it was least expected – the goaltending.
The Two Maple Leafs’ Goalies Left Standing Are Playing Well Enough
Many Maple Leafs’ fans will point to the fact that Matt Murray is out with an injury. That’s what they expected, after all. And. some fans certainly have an “I told you so” attitude about that.
It’s hard for me to blame Murray for his injuries. In fact, given where he’s been, he had to have been approaching this season with a little dance in his step. He would have a chance to be with a contender again. Sadly, for him, his injury history caught up to him once more. He has that history of injuries in his background, which has curtailed what should’ve been a stellar NHL career.
However, the two goalies left standing – Ilya Samsonov and Erik Kallgren – are playing well enough. Both are stopping most of the pucks they should stop, and that is about what you can ask from a competent NHL goalie.
Their solid play should have been good enough for this Maple Leafs’ team. That it hasn’t been isn’t on these two youngsters.
First, Let’s Start with Erik Kallgren
It’s hard to blame Erik Kallgren for either of the losses he’s had on this California road trip. His team has been giving him little help.
I wrote in an earlier post today in The Hockey Writers that Kallgren will likely not be humming California Dreaming, but could be composing his own California Nightmares song. It is Halloween after all.
True, Kallgren gave up four goals in both 4-3 overtime losses in his last two games. But, in my mind, he didn’t play as poorly as the final scores suggest.
It wasn’t Kallgren’s fault the team lost either game. Kallgren was steady during both games. He made good saves and didn’t give up more than a single goal he’d like back during either game. Nothing slid slowly through his five-hole. As I noted, he stopped most of the pucks he should have.
Kallgren’s had a tough season thus far, and he’s winless so far. Last season, his record was 8-4-1. His goals-against-average was 3.31 and his save percentage was .888. This season, his record’s 0-1-2. His goals-against-average is 3.62 and his save percentage is .875 in three games. He deserves better.
As Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe started after the Coyotes game, Kallgren’s performance was solid. He admitted that the Coyotes “got behind his team” (just as they did last night against the Anaheim Ducks). But Keefe also admitted that Kallgren “stood his ground.”
That’s been Kallgren’s MO. He’s been standing his ground, but without many reinforcements.
Second, What About Ilya Samsonov?
Similarly to Kallgren, Ilya Samsonov isn’t getting much recent help from his teammates either. After winning his first four games of the regular season, and looking good doing it, Samsonov finally lost a couple of games.
In the loss to the Vegas Golden Knights, Samsonov only let in only three of 33 shots on his net. In that game, his team was simply outplayed. They defended poorly. That was the first game in which Samsonov had given up more than two goals.
In the Kings’ game (a 4-2 loss), Samsonov made 25 saves. Some were of the “great” variety. But, dumb luck (or intentionality on the part of Los Angeles) proved his undoing. Two goals Samsonov let in happened after his stick was knocked from his hands. The bottom line: the team didn’t lose because of his poor play.
Like Kallgren, Samsonov was under siege during the Kings’ game because his team took so many penalties. They simply could not kill them off. The truth is that Samsonov might have been the Maple Leafs’ best player. That fact will be absent from the box score.
After the game, Samsonov admitted: ”We lost confidence a little bit the last three games. We need to (get it) back.”
Samsonov philosophized: “Hard to say (why), but whenever you’ve lost three games in a row, for sure your confidence will be lowered. You don’t have more smiles.”
As the team heads home to play against the Philadelphia Flyers Wednesday, Samsonov now has lost two games. Yet, his record of 4-2 carries with it a 2.35 goals-against-average and a .920 save percentage. That should be good enough to win. It hasn’t been.
Again, I say. It isn’t mostly the goalies’ fault.