TORONTO — One man’s misery is another’s opportunity.
Such is life in the National Hockey League, where the schedule never waits for bones to heal or bruises to fade.
“Tough blow for our team. Tough blow for Joseph, of course,” head coach Sheldon Keefe told reporters at Saturday’s morning skate.
“But a tremendous opportunity here now for the other two guys, Samsonov in particular, who hasn’t played for a while and had been trying to find his game, find a groove. Here you go.”
Toronto’s presumptive Number 1 this fall, Samsonov’s shaky season can be traced back to the summer, when new GM Brad Treliving first met the goaltender face-to-face on the court steps, then tried to limit his salary in an arbitration hearing.
The 26-year-old goalie has played inconsistent hockey since, on pace for career worsts in save percentage (.878) and goals-against average (3.58) and getting the early hook twice versus the Tampa Bay Lightning, only see Woll swoop in and save the day.
Complicating the Russian’s start have been some admitted mental struggles and, recently, a bout with illness that has limited his practice time.
Because Samsonov was still under the weather Thursday, Martin Jones came off the bench in relief and locked down a Leafs win with Woll hobbled.
Starting Saturday at home versus the Nashville Predators, his first action in 15 days, Samsonov has been gifted a chance to flip the narrative of his contract year.
Remember, this is the same goaltender who posted the best numbers of his career last winter — 27-10-5, .919 — and backstopped the Leafs to the only playoff series victory a generation of their fans has witnessed.
With Woll sidelined for an “undetermined period of time,” per Keefe, and Toronto staring at a hectic December–January schedule, the pressure/privilege falls on Samsonov.
Ankle injuries are not new to Woll, who suffered one in 2022 while rehabbing a shoulder injury.
The goaltender told Keefe that he “missed his post” while sliding across the crease to make a seemingly routine save; that’s what put extra stress on his joint.
Keefe believes that the confidence Woll earned from his spectacular start to his first full NHL season (8-5-1, .916) will fuel his determination to come back stronger.
“He’s been through these things before and battled his way back. And when he has, he’s come back an even better version of himself, which is a credit to him,” Keefe said.
“We’ve seen tremendous growth in him off the ice, away from the game, which to me is a reason why we’re seeing him take over. So, I have no doubts in my mind that he’ll handle this extremely well.”
One-Timers: William Lagesson will miss another game due to illness, allowing Max Lajoie to make his third appearance as a Leaf…. Timothy Liljegren (ankle) participated with the team in a light morning skate but needs to test his ankle under the stress of hard practices before a return to action can be considered…. Ex-Leafs Ryan O’Reilly, Luke Schenn and the Predators arrive hot, having won three straight and nine of their past 11.
Maple Leafs projected lines Saturday vs. Predators
Knies – Matthews – Nylander
Bertuzzi – Tavares – Marner
Robertson – Domi – Järnkrok
Gregor – Kämpf – Reaves
Rielly – Brodie
Benoit – McCabe
Lajoie – Timmins