By Stan Smith
The Toronto Maple Leafs improved their record to 21-7-6. They solidified their hold on second place in the Atlantic Division standings with a, closer than it should have been, a 4-3 squeaker over the Philadelphia Flyers.
The first “Good” I wanted to mention was that, for the second game in a row, the Maple Leafs limited the shots on the net through two periods to eight. To me, that states just how great this team is playing defensively.
William Nylander Is Hot
William Nylander scored a goal and added two assists to continue his hot streak. He now has six goals and thirteen points in his last seven games. Nylander is on pace for a career season. At the rate he has scored in his first 34 games, if he stays healthy and plays all 82 games, he will end up with 48 goals and 94 points. His best season to date was last season when he totalled 34 goals and 80 points in 81 games.
Marner Is Consistent
Mitch Marner had a goal and an assist in the game. With 40 points in 23 games, Marner is on pretty much the same point pace as last season. If he keeps scoring at the same rate he presently is at, he would finish 2022-23 with one point less than he had in 2021-22 when he had 97.
Of equal importance in this game was Marner’s defensive play, especially in the five-on-three penalty kill in the third period.
Matthews’ Big Play
After the Flyers pulled to within one in the third period Matthews made the defensive play of the game when he went stick-on-stick with Joel Farabee in front of a wide-open Maple Leafs’ net, preventing Farabee from scoring what looked to be a sure goal that would have tied the game.
Even though they were not involved in the scoring and were each minus one in the game, Marlies call-ups Pontus Holmberg and Joey Anderson both played strong minutes in this game. They, along with Zach Aston-Reese, were hard on the forecheck and did a nice job of pinning the Flyers in their own end for extended periods.
Holmberg is listed at just 5-10, 175 pounds and Anderson is 5-11, 190 pounds. I felt the need to go back and check those numbers as both Holmberg and Anderson looked a lot bigger, and played a lot bigger in this game. They were strong on the forecheck and used their bodies well to protect the puck when they had it on their stick.
I had a difficult time figuring out what to list as “Bad” and “Ugly” in this game. Two things stood out to me that could have been either.
The Goalie Play of Samsonov
For the “Bad,” I decided on the goaltending of Ilya Samsonov. To be fair Samsonov’s play in this game wasn’t all bad. Because the team in front of him played well defensively and limited the opposition to only eight shots through forty minutes, it made it difficult for a goalie to say “in the game.”
The first goal was not on Samsonov at all. A shot from the point found its way through three Maple Leafs’ players who all tried, and failed, to block it. It is obvious from Samsonov’s body language that he never saw the puck.
I am sure that Samsonov would like to have the last two goals back. He looked off-balanced and unsure of himself on both goals. Both goals were similar in the location they were scored from. On each one, Samsonov had time to get into position to stop the puck. But, he looked awkward in his movement and his stance on both goals.
Once the Flyers started to press in the third period, Samsonov looked shaky and lacking in confidence for the majority of the period.
However, Samsonov Made Some Great Saves
As I stated it was not all “Bad” for Samsonov in this game. He did make a great save on Morgan Frost with just over two minutes to go in the game. Samsonov also tied the franchise record for nine home wins without a loss from the start of the season. He could break that record in his next home game.
Samsonov has allowed eight goals in 47 shots against in his last two games, an .830% Save Percentage. What I find more concerning is watching his post-game interviews in the last two games. He talked about being nervous going into the Washington game. That to me speaks to his self-confidence, or more specifically his lack of it.
After the Flyers’ game, he mentioned the word “mental” more than once and talked about looking forward to having a few days to “reset” himself and rest. That is after playing in only 13 of the Maple Leafs’ 34 games and missing 25 days in November due to injury.
Watching Samsonov’s interviews reminds me a lot of watching Jack Campbell speak after games. Campbell also had confidence issues. The Maple Leafs were able to work with Campbell on those issues. Hopefully, they can do the same for Samsonov.
Samsonov’s performance in the third period of this game could have gone under “Ugly” and my next mention could have just as easily gone under “Bad.”
My “Ugly” for this game was one decision, and one play, made by Conor Timmins. Timmins has played very well for the Maple Leafs since coming over from the Arizona Coyotes on November 23rd. He has averaged just under 17 minutes of ice time in the eight games he had played.
Timmins has been on the ice for two more goals scored for at five-on-five than against. He has also played some on the power play, averaging just over a minute a game with the man advantage. Overall he has been a pleasant surprise.
With the score 4-1 Maple Leafs and just over eight minutes remaining in the game, Timmins made a decision that made this game much closer than it needed to be. With the Maple Leafs cycling the puck in the Flyers’ zone, Timmins decided to venture deep into the zone, going below the goal line to play the puck. He got caught there allowing an odd-man rush the other way for the Flyers, a rush that ended with Morgan Frost scoring to make the game 4-2 and gave Philadelphia life.
With the Maple Leafs up three goals with only eight minutes left in the game, Timmins has to be a lot smarter, and more defensive-minded in that situation. Fortunately, that is a teachable situation and an error that can be easily corrected in the future.
The Maple Leafs get to enjoy a few days off for Christmas before finishing up 2022 with three games on the road. They are in St. Louis on Tuesday, Arizona on Thursday, and spend New Years’ Eve in Colorado.
I was thinking I could write the world’s shortest post for Christmas. I would title it “A Christmas Wish List For Each Toronto Maple Leafs’ Player.”
The article itself would then read “A Stanley Cup Ring.”
Everyone, Happy Holiday!
Go Leafs Go!