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Leafs' Keefe praises Samsonov despite loss in return


Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe was full of praise for Ilya Samsonov following the goaltender's first start since Dec. 29.

Samsonov, who cleared waivers on Jan. 1, allowed three goals on 23 shots Sunday as the Maple Leafs suffered a 4-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings

"He battled his (butt) off," Keefe said of Samsonov. "It's the best I thought he's looked all season just in terms of tracking the puck and some of the saves looked like the Sammy that we came to know last season so I think this is a positive step for him."

"He made a couple of massive saves for us throughout the game," forward Mitch Marner added. "It was great to hear the fans chant his name and give him the love he deserves."

Samsonov was waived Dec. 31 and then joined the Maple Leafs' American Hockey League affiliate, the Toronto Marlies. He was recalled by the Leafs on Wednesday, with rookie netminder Dennis Hildeby being loaned to the Marlies.

Samsonov was announced the starter earlier Sunday by Keefe and had a 5-2-6 record on the season entering the game. He went 1-1-3 in December, earning a shutout in the win before surrendering 21 goals in four straight losses.

But Samsonov said he felt good Sunday and taking things step by step is his "mission."

"First one, I'm so happy to be here," Samsonov said. "I lost a couple of weeks, I got some time for me. Coming back today, I think I'm seeing puck really good. … I feel good. A little bit (I) reset my mind. … Hard to talk about result."

Keefe felt his team just fell short offensively in the second game of a back-to-back set.

"Not enough offence for us here tonight," he said. "They defended well … the (Max) Domi breakaway, I would say, was one of the only times we really got behind them in the whole game.

"I thought that they played a pretty simple game that way defensively and as a result, you got to really earn your offence and we weren't able to get enough going there."

The Maple Leafs are now winless in their past three games, with the Red Wings climbing to within one point of Toronto for third in the Atlantic Division with two more games played. 

Toronto will visit the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday in the first of a four-game western road trip.