Be a good teammate.
While that’s about all the Maple Leafs can do for goaltender Ilya Samsonov right now, there’s a lot that goes into it.
Not only do the Leafs have to support Samsonov off the ice, the play in front of him has to improve dramatically.
That’s if Samsonov gets another crack at tending the goal crease for the Leafs.
Martin Jones will get the start on Saturday night in Columbus against the Blue Jackets in the Leafs’ final game before the three-day Christmas break from Dec. 24-26. We would assume that Jones also will be in net when the Leafs resume play, on Dec. 27 at home against the Ottawa Senators. The National Hockey League roster freeze ends on Dec. 28 at 12:01 a.m., and general manager Brad Treliving has to explore all of his options when it comes to Samsonov, who has not been able to get his game into proper gear despite diligently working with goalie coach Curtis Sanford.
It’s not like this has been going on for just the past week or two. Samsonov has not come consistently close to being the sharp netminder he was for the Leafs in 2022-23.
Whether the Leafs would waive Samsonov and send him to the Toronto Marlies so he could try to get back on level footing in games remains to be seen. What seems clear is that the Leafs can’t keep running Samsonov out every so often, not when routine saves have become a challenge for the 26-year-old. The latest examples came on Thursday in Buffalo, when Samsonov was pulled after giving up five goals on 19 shots. The Leafs lost 9-3, allowing nine goals in a game for the first time since November 2014.
“We have all been through it and we feel for each other, so honestly, it’s just something where you try to be a good teammate and push each other in practice,” Jones told media after the Leafs practised in Columbus on Friday. “I don’t have any doubt that we will get it turned around.”
Said William Nylander: “We didn’t go out there and help him throughout the game (in Buffalo). We didn’t make it easy on him. We’re there to help him get through it. We know what kind of goalie he can be. He will be there again.”
GREGOR ON POINT
One player that has brought little stress for coach Sheldon Keefe is winger Noah Gregor, whose energy and speed, mostly on the fourth line, has been a constant factor through Toronto’s first 30 games.
The play of Gregor has been a bonus for the Leafs, considering he made the team only after getting invited to camp on a professional tryout.
“There was great confidence in the management team in bringing him in that he could fit in well for us,” Keefe said. “To that end, we had expectations that he could be an effective player for us. It has taken time to figure out how best we can or should use him.
“He has taken a bigger role on the penalty kill and that has been hugely important for us. And playing both wings and scoring goals at important times and being a threat with his speed, that has been really good.”
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Nylander carries a 10-game point streak into Saturday … Winger Calle Jarnkrok was absent from practice on Friday because he was sick, The Hockey News reported, and he might not play. At practice, Jarnkrok was replaced on the right wing on the third line by Pontus Holmberg … Keefe reunited Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner on the top line, along with winger Matthew Knies, while Nylander was back with captain John Tavares and Tyler Bertuzzi at practice. In Buffalo, Matthews scored an eye-popping goal when he beat Sabres goalie Devon Levi with a quick shot from the corner, but it was Matthews’ only shot on goal in the game and it was just the third time this season he has been held to one shot on goal. “They are two elusive players who love to play with the puck, so my job stays the same — play it simple and get them the puck and get to areas where I can find myself in an open spot,” Knies said … Of the Leafs’ 27 shots on goal in Buffalo, Nylander (six) and Tavares (four) accounted for 10 … The Leafs signed defenceman Noah Chadwick to a three-year entry-level contract on Friday. The 18-year-old has 24 points (seven goals and 17 assists) in 30 games this season with Lethbridge Hurricanes of the Western Hockey League. A native of Saskatoon, Chadwick was a sixth-round pick, 185th overall, by the Leafs in 2023 … The Leafs have won four of the past five games in Columbus against the Blue Jackets. In 12 of the past 13 meetings between the teams, the winning club has scored at least four goals. The road team has won seven of the past 10.