There is no goaltending controversy for the Maple Leafs.
It should be pretty easy for coach Sheldon Keefe and his team.
Ride with Joseph Woll for the next while and see where he goes with the increased workload.
Keefe admitted after the Leafs’ 4-3 overtime win in Tampa against the Lightning on Saturday that Woll had already been slated to start Tuesday in Washington. Woll will face a Capitals team that has struggled in its first four games under new coach and former Leafs assistant Spencer Carbery, winning once, as it sits in last place in the Eastern Conference.
Alex Ovechkin has done little to speak of so far, registering two assists and nine shots on goal, as his pursuit of Wayne Gretzky’s scoring record hits a roadblock. Ovechkin remains 72 goals shy of Gretzky’s record of 894 for most goals in National Hockey League history.
No matter that, unlike Ilya Samsonov, Woll has shown that he is building on a personally successful 2022/23 season.
In two games, including the brilliant relief appearance at Amalie Arena, Woll has faced 59 shots and fished the puck out of the net after just three of them; Samsonov has allowed 14 goals on 83 shots, for an unacceptable save percentage of .831.
It wouldn’t be out of desperation and crossed fingers if the Leafs decided to give Woll a good run. He deserves it.
Of greater importance should be Samsonov’s early pitfalls. While Tampa star Nikita Kucherov can make any NHL goaltender laugh on any given night, Samsonov couldn’t quite get his act together for Kucherov’s second goal on Saturday and was soundly beaten on the first.
Keefe did not provide further details about his availability after the game when asked if he wanted to pull Samsonov in favor of Woll at 13:29 of the first period, even though he didn’t really have to do that.
“You can’t score three goals with four shots,” Keefe said. “That’s it.”
Woll didn’t have much time to think as he went to work so early in a game after not being in the starting lineup.
“I just signed up and stopped the puck,” Woll said. “I try to be prepared for any situation and it just so happened that I got the opportunity to go in.
Four games is undoubtedly a small sample size for Samsonov. However, it is clear that Leafs goaltending coach Curtis Sanford still needs to do some technical work with Samsonov. The concern heading into the season was whether Samsonov would stay healthy enough to handle the workload. Well, and this is a bit worse, the concern is, or should be, about Samsonov’s overall performance.
There’s no similar fear for Woll, who made 29 saves after Samsonov got the hook.
“Excellent,” Keefe said afterwards. “These are not easy times to come into a game like this and there really is no margin for error. It was great that he held his own the way he did.
“He was outstanding and competitive in practice this week and it was really great to see him step in and get the job done for our guys. Another young man arrives at a big moment for us.”
Once the Leafs are finished in D.C., the five-game trip continues to Dallas on Thursday and Nashville on Saturday. Since there are no consecutive sets, there should be no urgency to use both goalkeepers.
Woll has his game under control. Not Samsonov. It’s clear who should get the bulk of the starts in the near future.
We’ll soon find out if Matthew Knies’ first two goals can serve as a springboard for further production.
With his quick, deadly shot, Knies proved against Tampa that he doesn’t need a big opportunity to put the puck in the net. But that’s also the point. Knies has only had eight shots on goal in five games. He is capable of more and may achieve even more if Keefe keeps him aligned with Max Domi.
“That gives me a little more confidence,” said Knies about his two goals. “The chances were there before, but they didn’t click and didn’t convert. It gives me and Domi a little more confidence when they both fall.”
Domi, who counts the Montreal Canadiens among his former teams, said of Woll: “He’s great. “He kind of reminds me of Carey Price, his demeanor, he’s very calm and relaxed, on and off the ice, has a big body and moves really sound technically.”… For the first time in his 16 NHL seasons, Leafs captain John Tavares scored at least one point in each of his first five games. With nine points (two goals and seven assists), Tavares was a quiet offensive force in the early going… William Nylander’s goal in Tampa was the 181st of his career, tied with Phil Kessel for 19th on the Leafs franchise list. Nylander Busher next sets his sights on Jackson, Sid Smith and Ron Stewart, who each scored 186 goals in a Toronto sweater… Ryan Reaves had just eight shifts and played five minutes and six seconds against the Lightning, both personal lows in the first season the fourth-line winger played five games with Toronto… The Leafs did not practice on Sunday.