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Knee Jerk Reaction: When Toronto sports needed it most, the Leafs delivered a perfect effort

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Photo credit:Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Alex Hobson
2 months ago
If you’re a Toronto sports fan, as in, a fan of the Blue Jays as well as the Maple Leafs, you just had an insane 36 hours on social media. And, like things normally do for Toronto sports fans, it ended in heartbreak. After the now infamous Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes brought Jays faithful from no belief, to some belief, to every shred of belief imaginable only to have it end in a lucrative $700 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers, fans of Toronto teams were left in a sad, confused, vulnerable state. The only thing that could have somewhat salvaged the day was a Leafs win, and lord knows the Leafs aren’t a reliable source of happiness. 
But, today, they were. 
The Nashville Predators came into Toronto having won nine of their last 11 games, and with former Leaf Ryan O’Reilly looking to prove something. It easily could have been a typical Leafs night, getting lit up by a few former players and crumbling like they’ve been known to do in the past, but it wasn’t. The Leafs won 4-0, doubling Nashville’s shot total by a margin of 36-18 in the process, and playing what I would say was easily their best game of the season. 
While a pair of Auston Matthews goals will likely take most of the headlines, I think Ilya Samsonov deserves some serious credit before anyone else here. He may not have had the busiest night, facing only 18 shots, but he turned away each of those 18 shots when the Leafs needed it the most for his first shutout of the season. 
It was a sombre start to the day for the club, with the announcement of Joseph Woll’s high ankle sprain, and with Samsonov coming off of a sickness and not having played since Nov 24 in Chicago, the expectations weren’t high for him. But, he showed us flashes of what he was able to bring more often than not in 2022-23, and if it’s a sign of things to come in the wake of Woll’s injury, the Leafs will be just fine until he gets back. 
It’s worth noting that Samsonov has a tendency to play better when he has full control of the crease. He managed a goals-against average under 2.50 and a save percentage above .915 in two separate stints last season while Matt Murray was injured, so with Woll hitting the injured reserve, the increased workload and lack of outside pressure could help his game. 
Other thoughts: 
  • David Kampf has taken a lot of flack this year, but I’m probably in the minority in that I believe he’s worth his contract. He scored his second goal in as many games tonight and looks more comfortable every game. He always gets praised for his underappreciation when he skates alongside strong defensive players, then we wonder why he doesn’t look as good when you put him alongside somebody like Ryan Reaves. 
  • John Tavares is in a pretty lousy slump right now, with only two goals in his last 14 games. I have full confidence he’ll find his game at some point, because he always does, but it’s tough to watch right now. The puck seems to die on his stick whenever he gets it. 
What’s your knee-jerk reaction to tonight’s game? Let us know below.

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