Justin Holl, Mitch marner, Michael Bunting, Toronto Maple Leafs
Photo: Frank Gunn/Canadian Press

Ilya Samsonov won his second consecutive game to start his Toronto career as the Maple Leafs found a way to win a tight divisional game in regulation thanks to a late Justin Holl winner against the Ottawa Senators (3-2 final).

Your game in 10:

1.  We’ll start this one off with Ilya Samsonov, who wasn’t scheduled to take the start but ended up in the net after Matt Murray’s injury during the game-day skate and subsequent LTIR designation. The Russian netminder was really solid from start to finish in this one.

This was a fairly challenging game to be the Leafs’ goalie. The volume wasn’t anything crazy as the Leafs generally carried the play and nearly doubled the Senators in zone time throughout, but it felt like a solid percentage of the shots coming his way were either rush opportunities or quality chances off of defensive lapses. The numbers that validate the feeling: Natural Stat Track recorded the Leafs with 59% of the shot attempts and 57% of the scoring chances while crediting the Senators with 52% of the high-danger chances.

2.  It was a bright start from the Leafs, who got four lines involved early and attempted 11 shots to the Senators’ 2. Those two Ottawa shot attempts? Partial breakaways for Claude Giroux and Drake Batherson that Ilya Samsonov stood tall against.

The final minute of the first period and the start of the third period were the Leafs’ worst segments in terms of time spent in their own zone, and Samsonov kept the Senators at bay with the score at 1-0 and 1-1 respectively, including a good point-blank save on Josh Norris in the first minute of the third period that could’ve changed the complexion of the game entirely.

Samsonov didn’t need to be amazing tonight — and you could quibble about the Shane Pinto power-play goal finding a hole — but he did his job well and gave his team the chance to win it late. He’s kept his two starts to two goals or fewer.

3.  It’s a rare occasion to see David Kampf all over the highlight reel and especially rare to see him taking center stage on a key goal against.

Late in the second period with the Leafs down 1-0, Kampf scored a critical tying goal on a play where he presented his stick as a shot-pass option that he and Jake Muzzin executed perfectly.

After William Nylander made it 2-1 with a snipe on the power play with seven minutes left in the third, Kampf then lost a defensive-zone draw before falling over and losing his man in front (Claude Giroux) for the 2-2 goal.

4.   So far, the David Kampf-centered fourth line is well below 40% in shot attempt share and down below 25% in expected goal share through three games. They’ve conceded one goal as a unit at 5v5 and haven’t scored yet (Kampf was on the ice with Alex Kerfoot and Calle Järnkrok for the 1-1 goal tonight). But the line has been given a total of one offensive-zone start, and they’ve had a number of shifts where they’ve been a legitimate pain in the ass for the opposition without recording any shots or scoring chances, laying the body often and taking away time and space.

They also drew a penalty against Montreal and should have drawn one tonight after they created a goalmouth scramble and the Senators committed a clear delay-of-game that the officials conferred about and collectively missed. We’ll wait and see if the numbers normalize some over a longer sample.

5.  On a related note, I am sure it’s a bit of an anomaly, but over the two home games so far, Auston Matthews’ most frequent forward matchup has been the fourth lines of the other team (the top two were Austin Watson and Mark Kastelic tonight), and he’s started 16 shifts in the offensive zone to six in the defensive zone. That obviously creates advantageous mismatch opportunities — and the top line took advantage of such an opportunity against Washington for the game-winner early in the third period of Thursday’s game.

It will be a fine line to walk for Sheldon Keefe at times. If there is a decent amount of penalty-killing time in a game and Keefe is chasing it too hard, he’s potentially shaving down the time on ice for his star talent. Matthews was down in the range of 14.5 minutes at even strength in his first two games. For context, Matthews averaged 17.5 minutes a game at even strength last season.  It ticked up significantly to 18:37 tonight in a game that just had four power plays between the two teams.

John Tavares has averaged only 16:21 through three games, including 13:03 at even strength, compared to 18:04/15:04 last season.

These are all small-sample numbers that don’t mean much yet, but there will be a balance to strike between tilting the matchup game in his favour with his trust in his bottom lines and keeping his stars in the sweet spot in terms of TOI.

6.  There is no doubt that Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner are one of the game’s truly elite forward pairings and will remain as such for the indefinite future. But I do find they can sometimes fall into spells where they show a tendency to seek each other out for the perfect play instead of making the right one. As the stakes went up late in the series against Montreal and Tampa, I thought this became a real factor.

There are occasions when I think a brief separation — even just for a few shifts — is beneficial at times when a spark is needed. I thought one of Matthews’ best shifts in this game came when Keefe kept him out there with John Tavares and William Nylander late in the second period and they tilted the ice for multiple scoring chances, creating the momentum for David Kampf’s tying goal shortly thereafter (Related note: Nylander was buzzing late in the period with multiple nice rushes, including a breakaway, and his power-play snipe in the third felt like it was a while coming).

7.  Further to the point, around halfway through the third, it was a little odd to see Auston Matthews, who has the one goal through three games (the tip against Washington that he admitted he didn’t know much about), pass off a look from the middle of the slot. Flying in from the neutral zone with space around him, he had the defenseman backing in and an opportunity to rip one through a screen but instead opted to lay it off to Marner and go to the net for a play that never developed. Will he go and rattle off 12 goals in his next 10? Probably. But remember that you scored 60 last season, Auston!

All of that said, Matthews put seven shots on goal tonight and has 17 through three games. The goals are obviously going to come and come in bunches.

8.  The Leafs’ power play didn’t have much going for it on its first opportunity of the game and wasn’t off to a good start to its second opportunity late in the third period; a weak wrister into a crowd for a clearance was followed by a sloppy Nylander giveaway on the next entry and then a near-giveaway in the defensive zone. But sometimes it’s just the simple effort plays and winning a battle that makes all the difference.

Things weren’t quite clicking for Mitch Marner for much of the night, but his effort to deny a clearance by Josh Norris and win a battle high in the offensive zone before sliding it down the wall to Matthews created the 2v1 situation that Matthews and Nylander executed beautifully. Elite players can’t find their flow state every night, but good things can still happen when elite skill works hard like that.

9.  Good for Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl for setting up the 1-1 goal and scoring the game-winner, respectively. They’ve settled down and responded well since the disastrous game one, and they haven’t been shy about jumping up to make plays offensively when the opportunities present themselves. Holl showed good awareness to take the handoff on the cycle and identify the opportunity to head to the front of the net and bang in the game-winner.

I don’t want to leap to any premature conclusions in either direction given they were on the struggle bus together over a significant sample last season, but it is generally true that judging veteran players too harshly in early-season games is a silly endeavor.

10.   The silver lining of Matt Murray’s injury and LTIR placement is the opportunity to carry additional forwards on the roster and specifically to take a look at Nick Robertson on the Tavares-Nylander line, which is an opportunity Robertson earned in camp. It’s early, but I think Nylander and Tavares are off to a good start together — better than how they looked for much of last season (Tavares specifically appears to have a little more jump in his step). I’d like to see someone play with them who can be more than just a guy (no offense to Denis, who I am sure is a fine enough player).

Let’s find out if the line can be elevated another notch. We all know the numbers — Tavares and Nylander were outscored together at 5v5 last season — and this team should have two top lines handily outscoring the opposition.

Robertson may have gotten the poop end of the stick initially due to the cap crunch and waivers situation, but he scored for the Marlies today and may get to join the Leafs for the game against Jason Robertson and the Dallas Stars as well as their road trip through his home state of California later this month. Sometimes things sort themselves out and work out as they should.

Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Game Highlights: Maple Leafs 3 vs. Senators 2