The Maple Leafs have definitely been crease-crossed when it comes to mid-season mishaps with their goaltenders.
But unlike past injuries to Frederik Andersen and Jack Campbell at crunch time, Toronto seems better prepared this season to cope. Another injury to Matt Murray, who was the projected No. 1 at training camp, puts the burden on Ilya Samsonov. But he improved to 15-1-1 at home with Sunday’s 5-1 win over Washington and gets a well-needed rest during the all-star break after Wednesday’s game against Boston.
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“Sometimes (the workload) is hard, but the coaches support me, with a little less (practice),” Samsonov said. “But game day in the morning, I want to see the puck.”
Samsonov, who said he dined with some ex-Capital teammates Saturday, has now beaten his old team twice and saw Darcy Kuemper removed after four goals on 20 shots Sunday. But he expressed great respect for the Stanley Cup champ the Caps brought in to bump him and Vitek Vanecek.
WOLL ON CALL
Should Murray not be ready in a couple of weeks after an ankle injury developed prior to his last scheduled start on Friday, the Leafs can plug in Joseph Woll. Recalled Sunday from the Marlies on an emergency basis, he has a stellar AHL record of 12-1-0 with a .928 save percentage and could be in post-break action Feb. 9 in Columbus, the start of a back-to-back.
“There’s something there that’s going to require time for sure,” coach Sheldon Keefe said of Murray. “We won’t quite know, really, until we come back from the break.”
Keefe added he didn’t believe it was a long-term issue and Murray wasn’t placed on injured reserve.
Worries about Murray’s health were around before Toronto took a chance on him for two years at $4.678 million US following a disjointed season with Ottawa. He hurt his adductor muscles after just one game, but came back strong with a record of 11-4-2 and had a .911 save percentage before getting pulled in his last game on Jan. 17 as the Leafs were falling behind against Florida.
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Since his own shoulder and ankle injuries, Woll has been solid and with a record of 3-1-0 as a Leaf last season, he won’t be overwhelmed.
Other roster moves on Sunday saw the Leafs activate defenceman TJ Brodie from a rib injury and send winger Bobby McMann to the Marlies. Auston Matthews, who sprained his knee during a game last Wednesday against the Rangers, was officially moved to the IR with a three-week absence expected.
Alex Ovechkin had racked up 41 of his 812 goals against Toronto, but didn’t manage a point versus the Leafs in three games this season. He did have a couple of Grade-A chances against Samsonov on Sunday.
“It’s hard to (figure out) when Ovie shoots where the puck will go,” Samsonov said. “I just try to concentrate, be in line with his shot and react. He’s the best scorer in the league right now, really hard to play against.”
Keefe thinks the overall plan versus Ovechkin and the five Capitals on the ice has been the key, at even strength and 5-on-5.
“It’s so important you kill the play before they get the opportunity to get it to him. Each time you get a chance to win the puck back or clear it, you don’t want to let that shot materialize. We cut a couple off tonight, Sammy was sharp on one and he missed a couple, but I think (defenceman) Justin Holl has done a good job against that threat.”
The Leafs shook off a heavy physical presence from the Caps, even without the injured Tom Wilson, and were able to out-grind them for goals.
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Michael Bunting’s opening strike, the digging behind the Caps’ net that set up Morgan Rielly’s first of the season and clinchers by bottom-six forwards Pierre Engvall and Zach Aston-Reese were a good sign for Keefe.
“Even on William Nylander’s goal (a 3-on-1) the play stalled, but there was second effort,” Keefe praised. “(Aston-Reese’s goal), you draw it up and that’s what it looks like. One line gets out, controls play in the offensive zone, the opponent is tired, we out-change them and get a breakaway goal.
“That’s as good as it gets in terms of a process.”
ALL HAIL HAZEL
Before his pre-game hockey comments, Keefe paid tribute to Hazel McCallion, the 101-year old long-time Mississauga Mayor and former women’s hockey star. Keefe is from nearby Brampton.
“Certainly, a great loss, but what a life well-lived. The impact she made on hockey, women’s hockey for sure, but even minor and youth hockey … her presence and impact in growing by the game was felt by me, so it’s a great time for reflection and celebration.”
‘Hurricane’ Hazel received a timeout video tribute Sunday.
In a cute moment during the anthems, John Tavares and wife Aryne had to stop young son Jace from straying off the blue carpet to play with the commemorative silver stick that general manager Kyle Dubas presented the captain with for his 1,000th NHL game … Tavares has 324 points in 331 Leafs games and became the 375th NHLer to reach 1,000 games, the fifth to do it as Leafs captain with George Armstrong, Dave Keon, Doug Gilmour and Mats Sundin … David Kampf’s assist was his 100th NHL point … The four second-period goals restored the Leafs to a share of the league lead with Edmonton at 72 … The Marlies completed their annual ‘Boat Show’ Canadian road trip Sunday with a 3-2 loss in Winnipeg to the Manitoba Moose, though their record was 6-2 overall.