Strong goaltending from Ilya Samsonov and success on special teams were the difference for the Maple Leafs in their first road win of the 2022-23 season (4-1 final).
Your game in 10:
1. Despite a bright start to the game (3-0 shots through four minutes), the Maple Leafs fell behind 1-0 for the fourth game in a row after the Jets transitioned quickly for a rush chance, Ilya Samsonov made the initial save, and Alex Kerfoot committed the flyby of all flybys, failing to stop on the puck and leaving Pierre-Luc Dubois to score on his own rebound. No chance for Samsonov there.
2. This was a big night for the Leafs‘ special teams, and while the pair of power-play goals obviously stand out (they were the difference in a game that was 1-1 at 5v5), I thought the penalty kill really got it rolling for them.
The Leafs‘ PKers were frustrating the Jets on entries throughout the game, and it was Calle Jarnkrok on the Jets’ first power play — with the score at 1-0 Winnipeg — who broke up the initial entry and then was harassing the puck carrier on the next one when Josh Morrissey threw a pick on him that drew an interference call.
On the ensuring abbreviated power play, Auston Matthews fumbled the puck but managed to corral it and fire a pass into William Nylander in the low slot, where Nylander slipped a nice pass over to John Tavares. The Leafs captain patiently outwaited Connor Hellebuyck with great hands and a beautiful finish in tight.
3. I thought Sheldon Keefe made some good calls ahead of this game with his lineup. Coming off of a game where Auston Matthews took a bit of a beating (a cross-check from Jamie Benn, a mauling by Jani Hakanpaa, etc) and Mark Giordano was also crumpled into the end boards without a response, the Leafs were now heading into a situation on the road where everyone knew the Jets would try their luck on taking liberties.
That game within the game isn’t everything, and I think Keefe keeps it in the proper perspective — if the ZAR – Kampf – NAK line was playing better hockey, he probably sticks by it — but it felt like the right time to mix in a hungry Wayne Simmonds and Kyle Clifford on the fourth line given it wasn’t really giving the Leafs much in the past few games anyway.
The fourth line generated a couple of solid offensive-zone shifts in the game, and it was Simmonds’ between-the-legs pass that led to David Kampf’s second of the season that stood up as the game-winner. File another one under, “every goal Kampf scores seems to be important.”
Favourite Kampsite: Back of the net ⛺️ pic.twitter.com/bELpCdnJLw
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) October 23, 2022
Keep in mind that the usage changed completely from the Kampf-centered line with Nicolas Aube-Kubel and Zach Aston Reese that Keefe leaned on so much defensively, but it was clearly the best game of the season for the Leafs’ fourth line statistically: a team-leading 69% share of the shot attempts while outshooting the Jets 5-1 and outscoring them 1-0 at 5v5.
It’s a little thing, but once the game was out of hand at 4-1, Keefe was able to throw Simmonds-Clifford out for multiple shifts in the final couple of minutes to make sure the Jets didn’t try anything late and his team left the game healthy. They aren’t and shouldn’t be everyday players anymore, but as Keefe keeps his finger on the pulse of when the team could use a bit of extra juice throughout the year, they’re still nice veterans to have around.
I also liked Keefe’s decision to reward the second line’s consistent efforts so far this season by starting them for the beginning of periods on the road.
4. What was especially nice, though, was that Simmonds and Clifford didn’t need to go chasing down Josh Morrissey later in the game after his open-ice hit on Nick Robertson in the second period. There was an immediate response on the ice.
There was no staring at the skate laces from Morgan Rielly there, and John Tavares and TJ Brodie backed him up as well. Sometimes you see a teammate go over and jostle with a guy half-heartedly out of obligation, but Rielly mauled Morrissey with a ferocity that you can’t help but appreciate.
We saw Rielly step up in the same way last season when Nikita Zadorov caught Ondrej Kase in a similar spot on the ice in Calgary. It’s impressive for a 60-70 point defenseman to also show that kind of leadership and recognition of what is required in the moment — even if that part of the game might not come totally naturally to him — for the good of the team.
5. The middle frame wasn’t the Leafs’ best period in terms of controlling the run of play and generating sustained offensive-zone possession time, but they gave themselves some additional breathing room with a minute left in the period thanks to a John Tavares tip on an Auston Matthews shot from up top on the power play, which was earned controversially after a borderline Ramsus Sandin check led to a scrum and a Leafs man advantage.
It’s been a frustrating start for Matthews in terms of finding clean looks on the power play, so it was good to see him simply fire one at the net into a good spot. A confident Tavares did the rest.
Oh captain, my captain! pic.twitter.com/Y4KNAywaU9
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) October 23, 2022
All in all, while he is still waiting for the breakthrough (he still technically hasn’t shot a puck in the net this season — just the one deflection goal), it was a team-leading 13 shot attempts and three assists for Matthews in this one.
6. Also noteworthy on that power play: It was Ramus Sandin picking up the secondary power-play assist (for the second consecutive game) as the Leafs went with Sandin on the top unit over Mark Giordano with Morgan Rielly in the box. With Giordano taking on more PK minutes in Jake Muzzin’s absence, Sandin is taking advantage of the additional opportunity on the power play so far.
At 5v5, Sandin has been working the bank shot off the end boards to good effect, too — he almost caught Hellebuyck unaware for a goal early in the third period. He threw seven hits in a physical game against Dallas on Thursday and also brought a physical edge in a contentious game tonight in Winnipeg. He hasn’t been perfect, but I’ve liked how he has stepped up so far since Muzzin went down (two consecutive 20+ minute games).
7. This is about as good as I’ve seen John Tavares look over a five or six-game stretch arguably since his debut Leafs season in 2018-19. In that 47-goal year, he was obviously as good as anybody in the league at scoring goals in tight to the net, and he could also mix in the odd goal where he would flat-out beat a defender one-on-one. Coming off of an offseason impacted by his head injury in the Montreal series, his feet looked so heavy at points last season that it was like he’d have to beat his man once and then beat him again to try to open some space for himself. His feet look lighter so far this year, and he’s looking really confident with the puck on his stick at the moment.
With around seven minutes left in the middle frame, the second line got the Leafs going again after a rough 10 or so minutes with a momentum-changing shift that included a double-post from Tavares. The fourth line scored shortly afterward.
Overall, the second line has been the Leafs’ best through six games. If they can sustain it, it would be really something to see the top line rolling like we know it can with a second line this dangerous following up behind it.
8. There is parking the bus with the lead and leaning hard on the goaltender, and then there is playing a simple, clean game while protecting a multi-goal lead on the road. The Leafs’ third period mostly matched the latter description. They didn’t spend much time in the offensive zone, but they defended the critical ice well as a five-man unit and made the simple, safe plays at the blue lines.
The Jets huffed and puffed but could only really come up with a few half chances over the 20 minutes (plus one Pierre-Luc Dubois post on the power play), with few clear-cut grade-A chances generated off of defensive breakdowns or odd-man situations. It was a professional close-out period by the Buds played with good structure, which isn’t always in place this early in the season.
There was also the inevitable makeup call that came after the Jets felt hard done by following the Sandin hit on Cole Perfetti — and the ensuing scrum that put them down a man and led to the Leafs’ 3-1 goal — but the PK held firm (with one assist to the goal post).
9. This might have been Ilya Samsonov‘s best game inside his crease in terms of shot-stopping and his worst game outside of the crease in terms of his puck-handling, but it’s hard to ask for much more than what he has given the Leafs through four starts — 4-0-0 and a .938 save percentage, which is top five in the league among goalies with three or more starts. A breakaway save on Nate Schmidt when the Leafs were out of sorts in the second period was particularly crucial.
He’s been making the timely stops, and he’s done a good job of making the first save while also playing within himself so that he’s in position for any second and third opportunities. It’s been quiet and steady as she goes for Samsonov so far, although a couple of shaky moments behind his net led to good chances for the Jets in this one.
Last season in Washington, Samsonov went 13-3-2 with two shutouts until the New Year and seemed to hit a wall in the second half (10-10-3, .887 save percentage the rest of the way). To state the obvious, the true test is the sustainability and durability over the grind of a long schedule, but with Matt Murray out hurt, Samsonov’s proclivity for hot starts couldn’t be coming at a better time for the Leafs.
10. More than any kind of sustained 5v5 dominance over the 60 minutes, it was special teams, solid goaltending, and a good team-wide defensive effort that really tipped the game in the Leafs’ favour in this one. Success on the road isn’t always glamorous, but good teams find ways.
I still think this team has a ways to go until it’s truly clicking at 5v5 in terms of its puck control over 60 minutes and particularly the offensive rhythm of the big duo up front.
Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Attempts
Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts