By Stan Smith
The Toronto Maple Leafs squeaked out a 2-1 win over the Minnesota Wild in a game that was the polar opposite of their previous 6-3 victory in Buffalo.
The first “Good” in this game was good luck in the second minute of play when Ilya Samsonov thought Ryan Hartman of the Wild was going to dump the puck along the boards in the Maple Leafs’ zone. Instead, Hartman fired a shot on the net from outside the blue line. Luckily for Samsonov, who had started to vacate the net, and the Maple Leafs, the shot hit the inside of the far post and bounced out.
Maple Leafs’ president Brendan Shanahan has stated in the past that he feels the one thing his team is lacking is a “Killer Instinct.” It appears that William Nylander is acquiring that instinct along with the ability to score big goals and to do it in style.
For the second time this season, Nylander won a game in overtime with a solo, highlight reel play. This time, he stole the puck off of Frederick Gaudreau’s stick in the Wild zone, dancing around Matt Boldy. He then avoided a poke check by Filip Gustavsson before depositing the puck in the Minnesota net just over a minute into the extra period.
That play happened more than 41 minutes after Nylander made another nice play. In the first period, he showed patience with the puck behind the Wild net. That allowed David Kampf to get open in tight before snapping a short pass to him on the Maple Leafs’ only other goal in the game.
The overtime goal was Nylander’s third of the season. It’s one goal shy of the single-season record for the Maple Leafs of four set by Mats Sundin in the 1999-00 season.
With all the talk and notice that Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner get for setting records and climbing the all-time leaderboard for scoring of the Maple Leafs, Nylander has worked his way up to 21st in all-time points by Maple Leafs’ player. He now has totalled 413 points and is only one point behind Ian Turnbull and the top twenty.
Other than the lucky bounce we talked about earlier, Ilya Samsonov only gave up one goal in the game. [We’ll talk about this later.] He had a solid outing for the Maple Leafs. He stopped 24 of the 25 shots he faced, with a save percentage of 0.960.
The win gives Samsonov his 21st win of the season. It’s just two wins shy of his career-high most wins in a single season, a record he posted last season with the Washington Capitals. However, his 21 wins this season come in 14 fewer games. He increased his record to 21-7-2 on the season and his home record to an amazing 17-2-1.
The first “Good” I noted in this game was luck. The first “Bad” was also luck. The only puck that got past Samsonov in this game was a carom by Brandon Duhaime from behind the Toronto net off of Calle Janrkrok’s skate into the goal. It’s difficult to tell if it was an intentional play by Duhaime or an attempted pass to Jordan Greenway, who was out front of the net.
The other bad was the Maple Leafs not being able to take advantage of a situation where the Wild were playing their second game of a back-to-back and their third game in four nights. They could have put this game away sooner.
It wasn’t like they controlled play and were stoned by a hot goaltender, at five-on-five, according to Naturalstattrick.com. In fact, the Wild had 58% of the Scoring Chances, and 60% of the High-Danger Scoring Chances in the game.
This whole game was ugly. The defensive play by both teams was the dominant factor in the contest. Neither team gave the opposition any room to move. According to the game report posted by the NHL, there were 27 giveaways in the game and 19 takeaways, for a total of 46 turnovers.
It appears to me this number was low. Both teams struggled to complete passes all over the ice. The phrase “playing in a phone booth” came to mind while watching this game.
It is easy to see why the Wild are one of the lowest-scoring teams in the league (tied for 24th with the Ottawa Senators at 172 with two more games played than the Senators). They only have one player with more than 21 goals on the season. (Kirill Kaprizov has 38).
But they have bought into head coach Dean Evason’s, defence-first game plan, getting their sticks into the passing and shooting lanes and collapsing all five skaters in front of their net to prevent opposing players from penetrating the high-danger areas of the ice.
To the Maple Leafs’ credit, they also showed patience. In fact, they were willing to match the Wild’s defence with their own improved defensive play. For the fans, however, it made for a real snoozer of a game.
The Maple Leafs pack up and head out on a four-game West coast road trip which will take them to Seattle, Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver. The first game is an early 4:00 pm start against the Kraken (7:00 pm EST). Their only other meeting of the season was an ugly 5-1 loss in Toronto, a game in which the Kraken scored four goals in the second period against Matt Murray. That game was in the middle of an eight-game winning streak by Seattle, seven of which were on the road.
The Kraken have since cooled off considerably, winning just six of their last sixteen games. Hopefully, this can be a “revenge” game for the Maple Leafs.
Speaking of Murray, he skated with the team this week and is joining them for the trip. Murray last played on January 17th and was placed on the LTIR on February 9th. Teams can place players on LTIR retroactively and I can’t find any info as to the actual date they picked. I have seen reports that he would be eligible to return anywhere between February 28th and March 3rd. He should be eligible to play at some point during the trip.
The Maple Leafs play back-to-back on Wednesday and Thursday against Edmonton and Calgary. I would expect Samsonov to play in Seattle and again in one of the two Alberta games. We will have to wait to see if it is Murray or Joseph Woll that gets the other start.
Rasmus Sandin could return as early as Sunday. He was a full participant in the practice held on Thursday but was deemed not ready to return for the Wild game following that practice.
The Trade deadline is just six days away. It will be interesting to see if General Manager Kyle Dubas will make any other deals to bolster the lineup for the postseason.