By Stan Smith
The Toronto Maple Leafs put in a gutsy effort on Monday night to come up with a 2-1 overtime win over the Panthers 2-1 in Florida.
This game was a reversal from the last time these teams met in Toronto. In that game, the Maple Leafs carried the play and outshot the Panthers 40-29 but lost the game 3-2 in overtime. This time around it was Florida that outshot the Maple Leafs 46-25 but lost the game in overtime.
Ilya Samsonov Earns First Star
Ilya Samsonov was named the first star on the broadcast and he deserved it. He stopped all but one of the 46 shots he faced in the game.
Samsonov is heating up at the right time of the season. In his last three games, he has allowed just four goals on 100 shots giving him a 0.960 Save Percentage and a 1.29 Goals-Against-Average. He outdueled Panthers’ goalie Alex Lyon, who had won his last six starts in a row. Lyon’s streak had begun with Florida’s 3-2 win in Toronto two weeks ago.
A team can rarely score just one goal in regulation and still have a chance at winning the game. This was one of those occasions thanks to Samsonov.
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Matthews and Marner
Auston Matthews opened the scoring with his 40th goal of the season. The goal came when he tipped a Mitch Marner shot past Lyon late in the second period. Matthews became the first Maple Leafs’ player to score 40 goals in a season five times. He was tied with Darryl Sittler at four 40-goal seasons.
The goal was Matthews’ 299th of his career, moving him into a tie with Rick Vaive for fifth place in all-time Maple Leafs’ scoring.
Mitch Marner’s assist on the goal was his 69th assist of the season. That set a new personal single-season mark for him. Marner is the second Maple Leafs’ player in franchise history to reach the 60-assist plateau three times. Borje Salming was the only other Toronto player to do so. He did it in 1976-77, 1977-78, and 1980-81.
It was also Marner’s 99th point on the season. He needs one more point to become only the fourth Maple Leafs’ player to score 100 points in a season. The other three are Doug Gilmour (twice), Darryl Sittler (twice), and Matthews (once).
John Tavares scored the game-winning goal with just 22 seconds left in overtime. He did so at the 2:27 mark of his last shift of the game. After Samsonov made a save on Matthew Tkachuck, the rebound came out to Morgan Rielly. Rielly attempted clearing pass deflected off of Gustav Forsling’s stick out to center ice.
Rather than get off the ice, Tavares beat an equally tired Tkachuk to the puck, broke away on Lyon, and went forehand, backhand, then to the roof. It won the game.
The official score was Tavares from Rielly. I have no idea why Samsonov was not awarded an assist on the goal, as the puck went from his pads right to Rielly to start the play. It is fitting that Samsonov would be in on the winning goal of the game.
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After signing his ELC contract on Sunday, Matthews Knies had a busy day. First, he travelled to Florida. Second, he went through the whole process a newly signed player has to go through before suiting up for an NHL team for the first time. That included passing an extensive medical.
Knies was not scheduled to play in the game Monday night. Then Sam Lafferty came up with an undisclosed problem before the start of the game. As a result, Knies got to play his first NHL game. It came less than 48 hours after playing his last US College game.
Considering everything he went through, and the fact he has yet to have a practice with the Maple Leafs, the 20-year-old handled himself quite well. He played 13:09 in the game. That was 15 seconds more than Alex Kerfoot played. Knies could have had a primary assist on a couple of occasions in the first period as he first set up Mark Giordano for a one-timer at the point. He then gave the puck to Kerfoot, who walked in on Lyon and had an excellent scoring chance.
Knies did cough up the puck twice in his own zone on the same shift in the second period. However, overall he did not look out of place. I don’t think we will see him in the playoffs, but his future does look bright with the Maple Leafs.
For the second game in a row, the Maple Leafs found themselves in a situation where they had to sign a non-NHL goalie to a one-game tryout. This time it was OHL goalie Nick Chenard. Fortunately for the Maple Leafs Samsonov was able to play the whole game, even though he did have a bit of a scare when he took a shot up high late in the first period.
They commented on the broadcast that this was a case of the Maple Leafs circumventing the rules but it was also reported the Maple Leafs had placed a request with the NHL to use Joseph Woll as an emergency backup. The request was denied by the league.
There was nothing I saw in this game I would consider “Ugly.”
But, the Maple Leafs are faced with an ugly decision when they hop over to Tampa tonight to take on the Lightning. They will either have to play Samsonov in the second game of back-to-backs. Or, they will need to sign another goalie to a one-game amateur tryout and play him in the game. Or, third, they will have to sit Knies out to activate Joseph Woll.
If one of Noel Acciari and Sam Lafferty is healthy enough to go, the Maple Leafs can demote Knies on paper giving them enough cap space to activate Woll. If neither of those players can play, Toronto may find itself in a situation where they may have to dress ten forwards and eight defensemen to allow them to play Woll.
The Reason for the Roster Problem
The Maple Leafs have been getting publicity for having a serious cap problem. It now has forced them to dress amateur backup goalies. However, I have been surprised that no one has pointed out the main reason for this.
To give themselves as much depth on the blue line as possible, the Maple Leafs decided, following the trade deadline to carry nine defensemen. The only way they could avoid that would be to place one of the nine players on waivers and risk losing him. That only gave them room to have 12 forwards on their 23-player roster.
With Acciari being injured enough to be day-to-day but not badly enough to go on LTIR, it left the team with only eleven forwards. Add to that Lafferty going down for the Panthers’ game left, it gave the team only ten forwards.
The decision to play Wayne Simmonds on Saturday forced the Maple Leafs to send the only player they could to the minors without having to place him on waivers. That player was Woll.
Then, on Monday, Lafferty was deemed not healthy enough to play. That left the Maple Leafs with the choice of going with ten forwards or replacing Woll’s spot on the roster with Knies. They chose to dress Knies.
In Tampa, they are going to have to find a way to dress Woll. Could that mean we might see Conor Timmins on the wing tonight? Stay tuned.
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