Photo credit:Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports
Now’s the time for Joseph Woll to show what he’s worth to the Toronto Maple Leafs
By Steven Ellis9 months ago
Had everything gone to plan this year, Joseph Woll would be laser-focused on leading the Toronto Marlies to a Calder Cup trophy.
That can still happen, with the next round kicking off this week. But, in true Toronto Maple Leafs fashion, nothing went to plan in the crease this year. And that’s why Woll is starting in Game 4 against the Florida Panthers to save Toronto’s season.
No pressure, Joe. It’s just the biggest game of your life.
We’ve seen backups come in and shock the hockey world in games like this, so there’s hope. And Woll has had an incredible season, going 6-1-0 in the NHL and 16-4-1 with the Marlies. Daily Faceoff’s Mike McKenna is a believer. Now that Ilya Samsonov is out, with no return in sight, there’s no room for error as the Leafs look to become the fifth team in NHL history to get out of an 0-3 series deficit.
The Leafs need to take this series one game at a time. But that also means Woll needs to play like his career depends on it.
It seems like a near-foregone conclusion that the Leafs will look to move on from the oft-injured Matt Murray next season. Murray is healthy right now, but coach Sheldon Keefe still elected to go with his 24-year-old rookie instead in the team’s most important game of the season. Regardless of what happens, it looks like Woll should factor into Toronto’s plans next year, but a win today could help instill some confidence.
It’s hard to point at goaltending as the reason Toronto’s down. There’s only so much you can do when your big four is nowhere to be found. But Samsonov wasn’t better than Sergei Bobrovsky, that’s for sure. And now Woll needs to outduel one of the best goaltenders in the playoffs right now.
There isn’t much playoff experience to look back at for Woll, just a pair of relief efforts. He had a tough start in Game 3, but immediately facing a breakaway on the power play is a tough ask for anyone. So Woll is essentially going in fresh against a team that hadn’t seen him previously in the regular season.
Woll’s career arc has been an interesting one. He played two fantastic years at Boston College before turning pro. And then his first two years were dominated by injury, limiting his total game output. He’s been healthy this season and playing the best pro hockey of his career. He’s riding a high, so to say.
Keefe told reporters earlier this week that he has confidence in Woll, and they better. The Leafs have tried different lineup combinations throughout the series and made nothing stick. Giveaways have been a disaster, and the (s)core(less) four of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and John Tavares are 0-for-49 in shots in the series. After a brutal third game, the Leafs need to tighten things up at both ends of the ice and give Woll the adequate support he needs.
The Leafs are all-in on Woll, the new ride-or-die. Even if Samsonov comes back healthy in the series, it might make the most sense to give free rein to Woll and let him run with it. He has never played in an elimination scenario like this, but that’s part of the fun. Look at what Akira Schmid did against the Rangers (and ignore his play against the Hurricanes).
Woll is signed at $766,667 until 2025, giving the Leafs some much-needed cap relief in the crease, and some freedom to give Samsonov, a pending RFA, a new deal this summer. Of course, the Leafs would probably love to get at least some of Murray’s $4.687 million off the books, but it’s unlikely they’ll lose all of it. That’s a topic for another day, but it’s clear Woll should factor into Toronto’s long-term plans.
The long-term right now is next week, with the Leafs potentially forcing a Game 7. Every night is going to be a Game 7 for the club, though, just like the last month was for Florida heading into the Stanley Cup final. Toronto has to have a “why not us?” attitude on Wednesday to force a trip back to Toronto later this week.
And for Woll, it’s a chance to take center stage in the world’s biggest hockey market. Set your mark, write your own story. Again, no pressure, Joe.
Recent articles from Steven Ellis