Quick Shifts: Kyle Dubas’s goaltending risk is looking brilliant

Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Matt Murray (30) defends the net from a shot on goal during first period NHL hockey action against the New Jersey Devils, on Thursday, November 17, 2022. (Christopher Katsarov/CP)

A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep. Get well, Kris Letang.

1. By a country mile, the most dramatic, debated and derided decision of Kyle Dubas’s off-season was his decision to scrap both halves of his goaltending tandem and gamble on two prove-it guys with checkered injury and performance histories.

Well, 25 games deep, not only are Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov both simultaneously healthy, they’re humming at the top of their game.

Samsonov’s perfect 6-0-0 home record to start the season ties him with Felix Potvin (1993-94) for the second-longest such run in Maple Leafs history, behind only Bruce Gamble (9-0, in 1967-68).

Murray, who gets the nod in Saturday’s showcase revenge date in Tampa, has not lost in regulation since returning from his Week 1 adductor injury. He’s making high-danger chances look routine and reminding the hockey world of his Stanley Cup pedigree.

Yes, both men have spent their weeks on injured reserve, but when available, they’ve exceeded expectations and stuffed a sock in critics’ mouths.

Combined, the duo is 12-3-1.

Both rank among the NHL’s top six in save percentage. Murray is at .927. Samsonov is at .924.

All the more impressive when you realize the NHL’s average save percentage has dipped to a 15-year low of .905.

Maple Leafs’ team save percentage has leapt from 21st overall in 2021-22 to fifth this season.

Jack Campbell and Petr Mrazek, the goalies Murray and Samsonov replaced — at the expense of an own rental and a trade down during the 2022 draft — have been disastrous in their new uniforms.

Campbell is a .872 with Edmonton and has lost his training-camp grasp of the No. 1 role. Mrazek has battled yet another October injury to the tune of .878 in Chicago. Those two are a combined 8-11-1. Shedding them was worth the cost.

Score one for the “goaltending is voodoo” crowd. But also score one for Dubas and his odd-couple combination of Smilin’ Sammy and the Murr Dawg, both of whom are indeed proving it under a cranked-up heat lamp and behind a banged-up blue line. And making their GM look good in the process.

For years, Toronto put all its eggs in one basket and relied on one goalie, Frederik Andersen, to carry all the physical and mental load. It was too much.

As varied as their contracts, personalities and résumés are, Murray and Samsonov are in this together.

“We want to have both guys involved. That’s the reality of the NHL, first of all. But in our situation specifically, both guys have played so well,” coach Sheldon Keefe said.

With the luxury of two healthy, dependable goaltenders at their disposal, the Maple Leafs have mapped out a secret plan for sharing starts.

“We won’t communicate that to anyone, including them, until we need to,” Keefe explained. “It’s important to take each day as they come and go from there.”

Our December bet is a two-thirds split: Murray gets Saturdays and Tuesdays. Samsonov gets thirsty for Thursdays.

Health willing, of course.

2. One of the smoothest positional torch-passings in recent memory was Tampa Bay Lightning starting goalie Ben Bishop gradually transferring the net to incumbent Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Is there a parallel emerging in Central Florida with the No. 1 defenceman role?

Mikhail Sergachev, 24, has taken over the top-unit power-play duties from top-pair partner Victor Hedman, 31, he of annual Norris Trophy debates.

Sergachev has burst out the gates with 22 points, while Hedman has one goal and 10 points.

Hedman (24:32) still has the edge on his young partner (23:59) in ice time, but that gap has narrowed significantly — by 2:04 — year over year.

“Heddy’s our guy,” Tampa coach Jon Cooper reasserted on Real Kyper & Bourne Friday.

We won’t deny that. Hedman is a blueline demigod.

And yet? We are seeing the beginnings of a transfer of power and cannot deny it.

3. Internal salary caps are as real a thing as the no-state-tax discount.

Roope Hintz inked an eight-year extension at $8.45 million per season with the Dallas Stars this week. The deal helps GM Jim Nill dodge a potentially testy RFA arbitration case, buys seven speedy UFA seasons, and has Hintz settling in at an identical AAV as top defenceman Miro Heiskanen.

A couple notes on the Hintz pact:

• His raise will make early Hart Trophy-candidate Jason Robertson the club’s fourth-highest-paid forward and fifth-highest-paid player, starting with 2023-24. What a steal that kid is.

• Nill was subjected to speculation over his job security not so long ago.

But the veteran GM’s recent work — from the hiring of Peter DeBoer to his series of future-core extensions of prime-aged players — is coming up roses.

No. 1 goalie Jake Oettinger, 23, is in the fold through 2025.

No. 1 forward Robertson, 23, is on the books through 2026.

No. 1 D-man Heiskanen, 23, is locked in through 2029.

And now No. 1 centre Hintz, 26, is secure through 2031.

By which time, surely the Stars will have another Stanley Cup Final appearance — and we’ll have flying cars.

4. Jack Hughes was asked what he was aiming for Saturday, when he deposited the second of his hat-trick goals in the coin slot between Washington goalie Charlie Lindgren’s right ear and the near post.

“Just the net, baby. Just the net,” Hughes said, smiling. “Simple game. Aim for the net.”

Hughes later conceded that he’s worked on that sharp-angle snipe a bunch.

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Hughes is stirring buzz foremost with his on-ice performance (he leads the juggernaut Devils with 12 goals and 28 points) and, secondarily, with his breezy approach to hockey interviews.

“He tiptoes that line (between) confident and cocky really well. If you know him, he’s a great kid. He wants to do so well, and he knows he can do well,” said teammate Miles Wood. “So when he does bad, he’s OK with moving forward and doing well for us. I know he wants to be that guy. He takes a lot of pride in being that guy for us. His skillset, I think, speaks for itself.”

Coach Lindy Ruff said Hughes’s game has improved “everywhere.” Yes, his release has refined, his playmaking is more precise, but Hughes’s commitment to being on the defensive side of the puck has seen the greatest leap, according to Ruff.

Hughes was a career minus-45 skater heading into this season. He’s a plus-10 in 2022-23.

The budding superstar is striking that balance between playing a style coaches trust and one that ignites fans.

“Whenever we’re playing a team that’s man-on-man defence, I think between him and (Jesper) Bratt, they’re probably licking their chops to take guys one-on-one. Me, not so much,” Wood said.

“You see the way they pick up pucks off the walls and turn around corners. Very few guys play like that.”

5. Is it me, or did the hockey world not kick up enough ruckus over Alex Ovechkin busting Wayne Gretzky’s NHL record for all-time road goals?

Ovechkin has also passed Gordie Howe for most goals for a single franchise in league history and tied Jaromir Jagr for most game-opening strikes. He could join the über-exclusive 800 Club by Christmas.

Are we simply taking his age-defying feats for granted? Or is his home nation’s invasion of Ukraine casting a shadow over the coverage of Ovechkin’s astronomical athletic feats?

6. In the name of old-fashioned entertainment and Rock ’Em Sock ’Em hockey, I’m fine with Jordan Binnington trying to lay this hit.

But if a skater can get penalized for checking an out-of-crease goaltender, why is the goalie allowed free reign?

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7. The Vancouver Canucks have retired the numbers of three franchise icons — Stan Smyl, Markus Naslund and Trevor Linden — who are not in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Roberto Luongo is in the Hall, right alongside Daniel and Henrik Sedin, whose numbers also hang from the Rogers Arena rafters.

Yet Luongo’s No. 1 (previously worn by Canucks goalie Kirk McLean) will not be retired. Instead, the club announced, it will celebrate Luongo by inducting him into the Ring of Honour.

Feels wrong that the franchise leader in wins and shutouts, a heart-and-soul Canuck who gave his best years to the organization, gets slapped with a lower-tier acknowledgement.

Luongo already has his number retired in Florida, with whom he registered fewer starts, fewer wins. But not Vancouver, where he played his best and most important hockey.

The lovable legend has taken the high road, naturally, but he deserves better.

If his contributions aren’t great enough, maybe Vancouver never hangs a rafter for a goalie.

8. Pat Maroon’s response to Jack Edwards’s “uncalled for” commentary (Maroon’s phrase) is at once helpful and savage.

“I wasn’t even on the ice, and I don’t understand why he said it. I’m a bigger guy. I know that. There’s times we joke around the locker room; guys chirp me on the ice. But when someone’s announcing the game and doing something like that in front of millions of fans and millions of listeners and just pretty much you put me down to the lowest, it’s never fun to hear that,” Maroon told reporters.

“I’m a professional athlete, I can take some stuff. I’m a funny guy. You can joke with me all you want. But that was very unnecessary.”

9. Los Angeles Kings coach Todd MacLellan was asked by a local reporter if Cal Petersen’s demotion to the farm — in Year 1 of a backloaded three-year, $15-million contract — can send a message to the rest of the team?

“It damn well should. Because we share in that transaction. All of us do,” the coach responded.

It should also send a message to other well-compensated goalies who are vastly underperforming.

Petersen is one of 10(!) netminders with at least eight appearances and a sub-.890 save percentage.

The others: Elvis Merzlinkins, Jack Campbell, Sergei Bobrovsky, Petr Mrazek, Alex Nedeljkovic, Thatcher Demko, Kaapo Kahkonen, Eric Comrie and Petersen’s tandem mate, Jonathan Quick.

Yikes, that’s a long list.

10. Mitch Marner can extend his point streak to 19 games Saturday in Tampa, jumping ahead of Darryl Sittler and Eddie Olcyzk for sole possession of the franchise record. Both Sittler and Olcyzk blew up Marner’s phone with congratulatory postgame text messages.

“Stay f—– hot!” piped goalie Ilya Samsonov, who guaranteed before puck drop Wednesday that Marner would tie the record.

“I know. I know. I look into the future,” Samsonov smiled, post-win.

How long can Marner keep this thing buzzing?

“We’ll see. Almost 50, yeah. I believe so.”

For those scoring at home, the NHL’s longest point streak belongs to Wayne Gretzky, who scored 61 goals and 153 points during his 51-gamer in 1983-84. Silly.

The longest in the cap era and by an active player is owned by Marner comparable Patrick Kane (40 points over 26 straight games in 2015-16).

11. Although it’s too early to dive deep into debate over individual trophies, I did find the exercise of participating in Greg Wyshynski’s NHL Awards Watch voter survey — and the results — interesting.

With the caveat that I am fully prepared to switch my picks as the games roll on, here are my Dec. 1 choices.

Hart Trophy: Jason Robertson (by a nose over Connor McDavid)
Norris Trophy: Erik Karlsson (Cale Makar is just warming up)
Calder Trophy: Logan Thompson (getting hunted by division rival Matty Beniers)
Selke Trophy: Nico Hischier (perhaps taking Patrice Bergeron’s dominance for granted)
Vezina Trophy: Ilya Sorokin (he’s doing it with less run support than Linus Ullmark)
Jack Adams: Jim Montgomery (sorry, Lindy)

12. Shout out to Wayne Simmonds.

To help Isaiah Meyer-Crothers, the young man bullied by Mitchell Miller, celebrate his 21st birthday, Simmonds met up with Meyer-Crothers and spent time with him while the Maple Leafs spent a couple nights in Detroit this week.

Simmonds wishes to let his actions do the talking and declined to elaborate on the gesture.

“There’s no need to. Just something that needed to be done. Just needed to hang out with him, you know? That’s about it. Nothing major,” Simmonds said.

Class act.

“Tremendous. It shows the type of person he is. Just the importance of the influence he can have on somebody, especially somebody who’s been through something extremely difficult that no one should ever have to go through,” John Tavares said.

“These are conversations we’ve had on that side of that game that we’re trying to improve, trying to change. He’s been very influential in that and tremendous here with us in setting a great example that way, helping us learn and understand and evolve things to get to a better place.

“It speaks volumes of him.”

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