December a tough month for Toronto Maple Leafs goaltending
Photo credit:John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
By James Reeve5 months ago
The Toronto Maple Leafs currently sit second in the Atlantic Division, but goaltending has been a struggle for the team throughout the month of December.
The goaltending tandem of Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov had many detractors prior to the start of the 2022-23 season, but so far they have put up solid numbers. Murray currently sports a positive 8-3-2 record with the team, holding a 2.47 goals against average and a save percentage of .919. Samsonov, by comparison, is 11-3-0, with a 2.20 GAA and a .920 Sv%.
These numbers see Samsonov and Murray sit 10th and 12th respectively for save percentage in the NHL for goaltenders with at least 10 games played, a highly respectable achievement that has the Leafs performing well.
However, the Toronto Maple Leafs are no strangers to difficulties between the pipes, as seen with the deteriorating performances of Jack Campbell last season. Despite playing the majority of the year below .900, the Leafs were still one of the better teams in the league and were unfortunate not to progress beyond the first round of the playoffs after a tough seven-game series with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
But, knowing what it’s like to play with struggling goaltenders, it’s important for the Leafs to be wary of how Murray and Samsonov are performing respectively. For December, the numbers are far less flattering for either player.
Take Murray to start with. In December, Murray played six games for the Leafs, with a record of 3-2-1. Pretty solid, giving the team seven points out of a possible 12. His monthly save percentage was below his current season average at .907. But what should be concerning for the Leafs, is how many games dipped below the .900 mark. Of Murray’s six games, removing the shutout win over the Dallas Stars and the one-goal conceded against the Lightning, four of his appearances saw him sit at .858, a far cry from what the team expects.
Samsonov began the month with back-to-back shutouts against the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks, but has proceeded to register three consecutive games in the .800s, averaging .848 through that stretch, where he has averaged four goals against. Despite this, the Leafs were 4-1-0 with Samsonov in net during December, with the Colorado Avalanche game still to play.
With a combined 7-3-1 record through December, there isn’t a serious cause for concern for the Leafs with regards to goaltending. The skaters on the ice have more than made up for the difficulties in net, outscoring most opponents and giving the team a positive run, but if the trend continues into the new year, then it could become more of an issue.
The Toronto Maple Leafs need to have reliable goaltending to help them achieve their goals of being genuine Stanley Cup contenders, and having two guys that can sit even around .915 would put the team in a strong position to at least overcome their first-round post-season woes.
Campbell stood on his head once it came to the playoffs, but the concern for the team prior to the end of the regular season was which version of him they would see. For the Leafs, they can’t afford to have those same concerns with whoever is in net this time around. Having confidence in the guy between the pipes each and every night can have a big impact on how the skaters perform, allowing them to take greater risks and play more to their preferred style.
If a team has a nagging concern, even just at the back of their head, it may cause them to be more conservative and make mistakes of their own while trying to keep up with their opponents. Goaltending can be the difference between winning a championship or going home empty handed. While there’s still plenty of the season left to play, the numbers have been somewhat of a problem this month and the hope will be that they recover early in 2023, putting to bed any questions or comments from the naysayers.
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