Photo credit:Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Knee Jerk Reaction: Joseph Woll makes a statement
By Nick Richard2 months ago
The entire Leafs team deserves credit for coming to life and earning a hard-fought shootout win after a dreadful first period, but Joseph Woll was the one Leaf who was on top of his game from the opening faceoff all the way through to the final buzzer and beyond.
The Leafs were under siege in the first period as the Panthers outskated and outworked them at every turn, and aside from getting beaten on the third attempt following an egregious defensive breakdown, Woll stood tall and made 14 stops to keep his team in the game. Woll’s efforts kept things close until a display of “snot” from Max Domi seemed to drag the rest of the team into the fight.
It could have gone the other way after Domi was assessed a double-minor early in the second period, but Woll and the rest of the Leafs’ penalty killing unit were up to the task. Following those successful kills and a less successful fight for Domi, the game started to turn in Toronto’s favour, and they matched both the pace and physicality of the Panthers.
Noah Gregor eventually tied it up with a fantastic individual effort, but the game could have been over long before then if not for Woll’s efforts early on. When the Leafs were chasing the game, he was a steady and calming presence in the crease – something that is becoming a hallmark of his game. Even when things got dicey towards the end of the third period, or with the Leafs killing another penalty in overtime, Woll appeared composed and positionally sound throughout.
Woll may have benefited from an interesting call on Evan Rodgrigues’ would-be shootout winner, but he deserved a break with the way he played. He finished the contest with 38 stops on 39 shots against and allowed just one goal in the shootout, bringing him to a 2.74 GAA and .916 SV% through 12 appearances this season. With each passing game, it’s becoming more and more difficult to deny that Woll is the Leafs’ number one goaltender.
The contrast in their season-long numbers is one thing – Ilya Samsonov currently owns a 3.58 GAA and .878 SV% in 10 games – but the eye test also backs up the assertion that Woll deserves a larger share of the starts moving forward.
Even when Woll has had an off night or surrendered a few more goals than he or the Leafs would like, he has rarely looked rattled or shakey, and he hasn’t given up many ugly goals. On the flip side, even when Samsonov has gotten the job done, it has often been an adventure with a lot of desperation saves and an ugly goal or two mixed in.
The Leafs aren’t likely to have either netminder take on a traditional starter’s workload, and Samsonov’s play last year will continue to earn him chances as well, but Woll has been the better goaltender by a large margin through the first quarter of the season. With Toronto battling for points in a tightly contested Atlantic Division, Keefe needs to continue riding the hot hand.
The club has done a good job of not putting too much on Woll’s plate too soon, but Tuesday’s victory over the Panthers was a statement from the young goaltender that he is ready for more.
Statistics from NHL.com
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