Ilya Samsonov’s time with the Toronto Maple Leafs has begun positively so far, so positively in fact that he has tied a franchise record that has stood since the late 1960s.
Through his first 13 games wearing the white and blue, Samsonov has been in impressive form with a 2.07 goals against average, while also sporting a .924 save percentage, ranking among some of the best goaltenders in the entire NHL. This has helped the Russian guide the Leafs to a solid 10-3-0 record, with two shutouts along the way. However, it is on home ice that he has truly shone so far.
Samsonov has begun his Leafs career with a perfect 9-0-0 record, which puts him into the history books for the franchise as it is the longest winning home stretch to start a season by a goaltender. The record, which is jointly held by Bruce Gamble, was set during the 1967-68 season, one year after the Leafs’ last Stanley Cup triumph, between October and January. Should Samsonov pick up a victory in his next home fixture, it will see him outright claim a unique franchise record after just a short time since arriving as a free agent this summer.
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Samsonov’s efforts thus far have seen him already live up to the one-year, $1.8 million contract he signed prior to the season, making the move a smart one for the Toronto Maple Leafs. His performances, along with those of fellow goaltender Matt Murray, have come at the perfect time for the team, which has suffered through a slew of injuries to the defensive corps throughout the opening portion of the campaign.
Jake Muzzin, Morgan Rielly, T.J. Brodie, Timothy Liljegren, Rasmus Sandin, Jordie Benn and Victor Mete have all suffered injuries at some stage this year, seeing them all miss various amounts of time. Some have been significant, with Muzzin potentially out for the remainder of the season, while Rielly has yet to return and Brodie has only recently been seen back in the line-up. With so many changes to the defensive six the team is able to put on the ice each night, seeing Samsonov step up is a great relief.
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His 9-0-0 home record is fully deserved, and his 6.4 goals saved above average shows just how important it is to have a hot hand between the pipes. His two shutouts are close to his all-time single-season best of three, which he earned in his 44 appearances with the Washington Capitals last season while his individual stats are already significantly better than the next-best seasons through his previous three years in the NHL. His debut campaign in the league demonstrated the kind of player he could become, seeing him finish 12th in Calder Trophy voting after an impressive 22 starts, but this year has seen him come into his own.
It hasn’t always been perfect, and his post-game comments after the team’s recent 4-3 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers highlight the work that he needs to do to maintain this impressive run, but the early signs are that Toronto has a reliable NHL goaltender in the system that could very well have a long-term future with the team.
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A restricted free agent after this season, Samsonov could be in line for a decent length of term on his next contract, potentially around the three-year mark, and if he continues to perform as seen for the majority of this year, there’s a chance he could eventually take on the starter role, especially after Murray’s contract expires in 2024. Until then, though, he will at the very least have a shared franchise record to his name and a place in Leafs history.