By Stan Smith

The Toronto Maple Leafs recorded their first win of 2023, a 4-1 victory over the Detroit Red Wings. Unlike the Seattle game where the Maple Leafs started strong and fizzled out as the game went on, they started this game slowly but got stronger as the game progressed. 

The Good

Ilya Samsonov

This was a great game by Ilya Samsonov and one that gave me a sigh of relief. After giving up 17 goals in his last four starts, I was starting to wonder if maybe the Washington Capitals might have been correct to let him walk for nothing as a restricted free agent. 

I had talked about Samsonov looking like he had lost his confidence in his previous three or four starts. He looked shaky stopping routine shots. His movement sideways did not look controlled and precise. The phrase “bundle of nerves” came to mind when observing his body language.  

Right off the bat in this game he looked calmer and more controlled. His movement in the net was crisp and controlled.  

Head coach Sheldon Keefe did say post-game that Samsonov was the only Maple Leafs’ player that did not take the scheduled day off the previous day and instead came in to work with goalie coach Curtis Sanford. Whatever they worked on seemed to work. 

If not for a questionable decision by a Maple Leafs’ skater, Samsonov could have easily had a shutout in this game. More about that later. 

Related: Three Takeaways from Maple Leafs 4-1 Win vs. Red Wings

Mitch Marner

I am sure most of Leafland knows by now Mitch Marner became the second-fastest player in Maple Leafs’ history to reach the 500-point plateau. It took him 467 games, 22 more games than teammate Auston Matthews, who accomplished the feat earlier this month. Amazing to think that a record like this is set twice in the same month of the same year in a franchise that is over 100 years old. 

Mitch Marner, Maple Leafs

The 500th point came with a little luck and a lot of skill. Marner used his superior hand-eye coordination to one-time a caroming puck off the boards at an angle so steep that he was straddling the goal line when he releases the shot, to tie the game on the power play 24 seconds into the second period. 

Marner got his 501st point late in the game when he relayed a clearing attempt by Justin Holl to a streaking John Tavares with his toe after the Red Wings pulled their goalie. Tavares scored into the empty net to put the ribbon on the game. 

John Tavares

It is funny how this game goes at times. Tavares had not produced much in terms of offence as of late.  Before the Seattle game, he had scored just one goal in his previous eight games and three goals in his past 17 games. The captain was the only Maple Leafs’ player to score against Seattle and then added two more goals in this game. The first goal was on a beautiful fake backhand-to-forehand shot to score the game-winning goal. He then scored the insurance goal to put the game out of reach into the empty net. 

John Tavares, Maple Leafs

The line of Tavares, Marner, and Jarnkrok had not been producing much as of late. Collectively they had five points in this game and were plus six. Hopefully, that can get them going again. A team this heavy in top-end talent needs both of the top-two lines clicking. 

Morgan Rielly

This was the most noticeable and for all the right reasons that Morgan Rielly has been, since returning from a long stint on LTIR. He was moving the puck much more efficiently, and faster in this game. He assisted on Marner’s goal and had the primary assists when he took the shot that Pontus Holmberg tipped passed Detroit goalie Magnus Hellberg. Rielly has 19 points, all assists, in 25 games this season. 

The Bad

As I stated at the beginning the Maple Leafs started this game slowly, managing only two shots in the first period, matching their lowest shot output in a period this season. It would not surprise me if this was a defensive overcompensation after giving up five goals in the last two periods of their previous game.  The Marner goal to start the second period seemed to go to their legs and they got better as the game went. 

Related: Ex-Maple Leafs Goalie Michael Hutchinson: Where’s He Now?

The Ugly

I also mentioned earlier that if not for a decision made by one of the Maple Leafs’ skaters in front of him, Samsonov could have had a shutout in this game. That decision came at the expiry of a penalty to Red Wings’ player Jake Walman midway through the first period. Walman got behind everybody when he was coming out of the penalty box and scored on a breakaway. 

The TV announcers made note of the goalie’s duty to warn the skaters in front of him of an ending penalty by banging his stick on the ice, something he did not do in this case. In my opinion, there was no need for him to do so in this situation. 

Following the goal, they showed a replay that gave us a view of the entire ice surface. The replay shows the Maple Leafs’ forwards moving the puck up ice. Mark Giordano is the last man up ice trailing the play.  He is three feet away from the penalty box and looks directly at Walman as he exits the box. Then, rather than making sure Walman is covered defensively, Giordano just continues up the ice.  

Mark Giordano, Maple Leafs

Overall Giordano played a solid bounce-back game after his performance against the Kraken on Thursday night, which was the only bad game I have seen Giordano play since he joined the Maple Leafs last March. I would love to have the opportunity to ask Giordano what he was thinking on that play. 

What’s Next?

The Maple Leafs travel to Philadelphia to take on the Flyers in what could be a tough second game of a back-to-back. The Flyers are rested and hot. They last played on Thursday night when they defeated the Arizona Coyotes 6-2. That win was their first game at home following a west-coast road trip in which they won their last three games. In their last four games, the Flyers have outscored their opponents 18 to 8 in their four-game win streak.

Coach Sheldon Keefe was noncommittal when asked about his lineup for the game. He did say he had some players that were dealing with issues and that he also wanted to get some other players into the game. Coach Keefe also said he felt the need to respect the job the players did that played against the Red Wings. He stated that any decisions as to who plays and who doesn’t play will be made on the trip to Philly. 

I would expect Matt Murray will get the start. It will be interesting to see if Samsonov’s strong performance against Detroit can take some pressure off of Murray and to see if he can have a similar bounce-back game after giving up five goals against Seattle.


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