The Toronto Maple Leafs ventured into Ottawa on Saturday night and came away with a 3-0 win over the Senators in a somewhat renewed Battle Of Ontario.
At one point this season it seemed that I was always starting my “Good” with either Ilya Samsonov or Matt Murray. Both goalies were playing spectacularly at the time and on or near the lead in the NHL in both Save Percentage and Goals-Against Average.
Lately, I have not talked much about goaltending in the “Good” section of my reports. More of their performances have found their way into the “Bad” section or have not been mentioned at all. That’s not a great thing either.
Samsonov gets a first mention this time. He stopped all 31 shots he faced in this game to earn his fourth shutout of the season. The win evened his road record at 7-7-1. That compares to a home record of 18-2-3 and gives him an overall record of 25-9-4.
While Samsonov’s 25 wins are 10th in the league, he has eight fewer starts than any other goalie in the top ten.
Samsonov’s 0.658% Winning Percentage is the second-highest in the NHL amongst goalies with 25 or more wins. Only Linus Ullmark, with 37 wins in 46 games is higher (0.804%).
Samsonov’s 2.40 Goals-Against Average is the sixth-best in the league amongst goalies with 20 or more games played. His 0.916% Save Percentage puts him in 10th in the NHL.
I think it is safe to say that Samsonov has earned the starting role for game one of the playoffs.
Note: All stats from Quanthockey.com and Statmuse.com
When I read the Maple Leafs had called up Radim Zohorna on Friday my first thought was “Who?”
Lost amongst all the other deals at the trade deadline, the Maple Leafs dealt Dryden Hunt to the Calgary Flames for the 26-year-old, 6-foot-6, 220-pound forward from the Czech Republic. When I looked him up I did have an “Oh Yeah, I remember that now” moment.
Zohorna, who was undrafted, was originally signed to an ELC by the Pittsburgh Penguins. He was claimed off of waivers by the Flames just before the start of the 2022/23 season.
I remember reading at the time Zohorna was a bit of an enigma. He’s big but not overly physical. He was not the greatest skater (which is not surprising for someone that big); however, he could handle the puck well. He could also score (23 goals over two AHL seasons). However, he was not known as a goal scorer.
When Zohorna made his debut for Pittsburgh in March 2021 he scored in his first game. But, he followed that up with only three more goals in 24 games for the Penguins. He then failed to record a single point in eight games for the Flames.
It took Zohorna just six seconds into his sixth shift of the game to get his first goal as a Maple Leaf. He stepped off the bench at 18:03 of the second period, received a pass from Jake McCabe in the left faceoff circle in the Senators zone, and fired a shot past Ottawa goalie Mads Sogaard.
Senator’s coach DJ Smith argued that a too-many-men penalty should have been called on the play, but John Tavares, who Johorna replaced, was a stride from the bench when Zohorna jumped on the ice, which is commonplace in the NHL. More importantly, Zohorna did not touch the puck until Tavares was completely off the ice. If Zohorna had touched the puck before Tavares was on the bench, then I could see a penalty being called.
Zohorna only played 6:15 in the game. However, I was impressed with what I saw of him. He made good, simple plays with the puck and used his size to protect it well. The young Czech did throw a solid hit in the defensive zone and used his body to separate a Senator defenseman from the puck in the Ottawa zone as well. He was credited with one blocked shot in the game.
Despite the decent showing, I can’t see Zohorna fitting into the Maple Leafs’ immediate plans. And, according to Capfriendly.com, he’s a UFA at the end of this season. We will have to see if he will show enough with the Marlies to convince the Maple Leafs to re-sign him beyond this season.
After a scoreless first period, Michael Bunting got the Maple Leafs on the scoreboard with an unassisted goal in the second period. Although no one was credited with an assist, I think this goal is a perfect example of hockey being a team sport. Little plays can have big results.
This play starts with the Senators dumping the puck behind the Toronto net. Samsonov comes out and plays the puck to TJ Brodie to the left of his net. Brodie sends a cross-ice pass to McCabe. McCabe then bounces the puck up ice off of the boards at the Maple Leafs’ blueline.
David Kampf gets his stick on it and deflects it up in the air into the Senators’ zone. Ottawa defenseman Nick Holden gloves the puck forward and it bounces off of Ridly Grieg’s leg right to Bunting in the slot. Bunting, with his back to the goalie, knocks the puck down, gets control of it, spins, and fires it past a surprised Sogaard.
Despite this being “unassisted,” Samsonov, Brodie, McCabe, and Kampf all played key roles in the goal.
Nylander and Kerfoot
After being the Maple Leafs’ best player for a good chunk of this season, Nylander has been in a bit of a slump lately. He had gone pointless in seven of his last eight games. He scored his second goal in nine games in the second period to put the Maple Leafs up 2-0. Despite Nylander’s recent struggles he still set new personal best season records for goals (37) and points (82) with the goal.
Alex Kerfoot made a great play on the goal. He backhanded the puck out of midair just over waist-high on an attempted clear along the boards by Holden after a lost faceoff in the Senators’ zone. Kerfoot then made a nice backhand pass to an open Nylander in the high slot. Sogaard got a piece of Nylander’s shot but not enough of it as it squeaked between his left arm and his body.
As has been a habit of late, the Maple Leafs had another slow start in this game. They gave up eight shots in the first eleven minutes of the first period. That included an Ottawa powerplay on a Luke Schenn interference call in front of the Maple Leafs’ goal. The broadcast mistakenly showed a Schenn hit on the boards as the penalty play.
The Senators kept the Maple Leafs’ big guns off the boards for the most part in this game. Nylander was the only one of the “Big Four” forwards to record a point in the game. Auston Matthews. Mitch Marner and Tavares were all held off the scoresheet.
The “Ugly” in this game was the game itself. However, it wasn’t ugly in a bad sense if you are a Maple Leafs’ fan. Lately, most of the games the Maple Leafs have played have been more exciting, with end-to-end action, and lots of goals. This game was a low-scoring, low-event, game.
According to Naturalstattrick.com, the High-Danger Scoring Chances at five-on-five were just six for Ottawa to four for Toronto. The Senators had one more High-Danger Chance on the powerplay, and two with their goalie pulled. The Maple Leafs managed one High-Danger Chance on the powerplay.
First Round Confirmed
The Maple Leafs hit the 100-point mark for the second season in a row, and the fourth time in six seasons. They also kept pace with the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning shut out the New York Islanders 5-0. Toronto remains four points ahead of the Lightning with two games in hand. With the win, the magic number for the Maple Leafs dropped two points from eight to six.
We pretty much knew the Maple Leafs and the Lightning were destined to meet in the first round of the postseason since about Christmas. However, with both teams winning on Saturday night, it has become official. Now it is only a matter of figuring out who gets home-ice advantage.
After going through a rough patch that saw the Lightning lose four games in a row, they have since put together consecutive wins in their last three games. Andrei Vasilevskiy is getting hot at the right time of year. He’s stopped 99 of the 100 shots he has faced in his last three games.
Back to Back
The Maple Leafs travel home to take on the Detroit Red Wings tonight. While they are not officially out of the playoffs, the Red Wings are ten points out of a wildcard spot with seven games left to play. Their chances of making the postseason are rapidly going from slim to none. They have only won three of their last nine games.
Matt Murray is scheduled to get the start. The Maple Leafs are 8-3-1 in the second game of back-to-back situations this season. Hopefully, they can add to that record.
The Maple Leafs are then home to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday night before heading to Boston on Thursday. After a home game versus Montreal next Saturday, the Maple Leafs finish the season with a tough three-game road trip next week. They play another back-to-back in Florida against the Panthers and the Lightning and then finish the regular season in New York when they take on the Rangers.