Following a nail-biting 6-5 shootout win over the Montreal Canadiens in their season opener, the Toronto Maple Leafs will meet the Minnesota Wild tonight on home ice. There are three things I believe the team needs to focus on. First, they need to tighten up their defensive game. Second, they need better goalie play. Third, they simply can’t make so many errors that give the opposition free chances on Ilya Samsonov.
During their first game of the season, the Maple Leafs did manage to win. That’s the bottom line. Still, …
Auston Matthews’s hat trick and determination made him the game-one hero. He scored two late goals in the third period to tie the game. However, there are obvious improvements they need to make against the Wild tonight.
Can Ilya Samsonov Have a Stronger Game from the Start?
When the Maple Leafs took a penalty during the overtime session, goalie Ilya Samsonov came through. He stopped everything. He also stopped all three Canadiens’ players during the shootout.
Head coach Sheldon Keefe went to bat for his goalie. He acknowledged the challenges Samsonov faced in a game where there were extended gaps between shots. However, he also emphasized the importance of moving forward and getting better.
Now the team must build upon the two points they gained in the sloppy win on Wednesday. Samsonov’s performance was pivotal during the penalty kill in overtime and the subsequent perfect shootout, giving the team a foundation to work from in upcoming games.
Give the Maple Leafs Coaching Staff Credit for Its Go-For-Broke Decision-Making
Toronto’s coaching staff does deserve some credit for pulling the game out. Their late-game strategy worked and gave the players some confidence that they should keep on keeping on. Down 5-3, the team pulled Samsonov for an extra attacker with just under five minutes remaining in the third period. This bold move showed their confidence (but also showed their expectation) in the team’s ability to execute during 6-on-5 play.
After the game, coach Keefe noted that this was a tactic they had practiced during the preseason, thanks to Assistant Coach Guy Boucher’s preparation. Keefe is good at sharing attribution with others.
Can the Maple Leafs Improve Their Team Defense?
Despite the victory, the Maple Leafs can’t play the same kind of up-and-down hockey and expect to win games. The team needs to refine its performance, particularly on the defensive front. The Wild are coming off a season-opening 2-0 shutout win over the Florida Panthers. In that game, Wild goalie Filip Gustavsson was outstanding, stopping a whopping 41 shots for the Wild.
The game tonight promises an interesting battle between the Maple Leafs’ potent offence and the Wild’s strong defence. Which goalie will prevail?
Line Combinations for Game Two Against the Wild
Maple Leafs fans should expect that the line combinations for tonight’s game should be exactly like those during the first game of the season. Fraser Minten gets another chance to show if he can make the cut with the big club. As noted, Samsonov gets another chance to show if he can improve. Another hat trick for Matthew would be nice.