Maple Leafs turning to Samsonov again vs. Jets
Ilya Samsonov will make consecutive starts for the first time in more than a month when the Toronto Maple Leafs host the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday.
Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said Tuesday that Samsonov will start against Winnipeg after picking up his first win since Dec. 9 in Sunday's 3-1 victory over the Seattle Kraken.
Samsonov, who was waived and assigned to the AHL to start the month before being recalled on Jan. 10, last started two straight games on Dec. 9 and Dec. 11. The 26-year-old made 16 saves against the Kraken to earn the win Sunday.
“Sammy was lights out for us. He made some unbelievable saves and just looked really confident, really poised in there,” centre Auston Matthews said. “It was great to see.”
“[Samsonov has] been grinding away,” added winger Nick Robertson. “I think he's just been on the opposite side of luck. ... He’s a great goaltender, too, so for him to get rewarded like that, and [after] working and going through this rough patch, it's good to see, and I hope he can build on it."
Samsonov has been candid about his struggles this season after opening the year as the team's No. 1 option. He has a 6-3-6 record with a .866 save percentage and a 3.69 goals-against average in 17 games.
Samsonov is just a year removed from his best season as a pro, winning 27 games, earning four shutouts, and posting a career-best .919 save percentage. He was awarded a one-year, $3.55 million contract in arbitration in the off-season.
“I think October to a couple of weeks ago this time is probably [the] hardest in my life,” Samsonov said after Sunday's win. “But life is moving forward and staying positive. I forgot about what was going on in the past. I'm just focused [on] today.”
With Joseph Woll sidelined and Samsonov struggling, the Maple Leafs have leaned heavily on veteran Martin Jones over the past six weeks. Jones, however, has lost in four of his past five starts and allowed six goals on 21 shots in Saturday's loss to the Vancouver Canucks. Woll, out with an ankle injury since early December, has resumed skating but remains without a set timeline for a return.
Bertuzzi's status unknown
Keefe noted that the Maple Leafs may be without Tyler Bertuzzi for Wednesday's game against the Jets as the winger is with his wife who's expecting.
Bertuzzi, 28, has six goals and 20 points in 45 games this season, his first the Maple Leafs. He is currently scheduled for unrestricted free agency this summer as he plays out a one-year, $5.5 million deal.
With Bertuzzi absent from Tuesday's practice, the Maple Leafs had Matthew Knies on the top line with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, Pontus Holmberg with John Tavares and William Nylander and Nick Robertson skated with Max Domi and Calle Jarnkrok. Bobby McMann was on the fourth line with David Kampf and Noah Gregor.
The Maple Leafs enter Wednesday's game having won two of their past three games after a four-game winless run.