Maple Leafs’ 3 Up, 3 Down: Liljegren, Robertson, Losing Samsonov
Injuries and early season losses have dominated the headlines for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Their slow starts have defined their first 12 games, having trailed in 10 of those 12 games to open up their 2022-23 campaign.
While some players have stepped up and had significant starts to the season, others haven’t seen the kind of success they surely would’ve liked to start the year. To the point that the Maple Leafs have made roster changes almost on a nightly basis, while a guy like Nicolas Aubé-Kubel was placed on waivers and claimed by the Washington Capitals on Nov. 5.
Still, there have been some positives to take away from the Maple Leafs recently, as well as some negative points and without further ado, here are some of the ups and downs that’ve stemmed from the Maple Leafs over the past week.
Plus One: Maple Leafs’ Wins Are Coming
Heading into November, the Maple Leafs had a 4-4-2 record through their first 10 games. Very quickly they were falling behind in the NHL’s Atlantic Division. But the turn of the calendar brought better fortunes and better efforts from the Maple Leafs, kicking off the month with two straight wins — one of which came against the top team in the NHL at the time.
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In front of their own crowd, the Maple Leafs came out with a convincing win on Nov. 2 against the Philadelphia Flyers. It was a win that came with some controversy near the end of the game involving an altercation between Auston Matthews — who had struggled to that point in the season — and Travis Konecny. But it almost brought the team together a little more.
The Maple Leafs followed that up with a 2-1 win against their rivalled Boston Bruins on Nov. 5, that not only got them back into the thick of things in the division, but it also showed fans and the team alike that they could compete against some of the best in the NHL — at least for those who had already lost faith just 10 games into the season.
Now, a week into the month, the Maple Leafs are sitting at 6-4-2 and while they still have injury hurdles to overcome, it looks a lot better for them through 12 games than it was forecasting through the first 10.
Minus One: Maple Leafs Lose Samsonov Against Bruins
One of the low points to start the month was while defending a penalty shot against the Bruins, Maple Leafs’ goalie Ilya Samsonov bent back on his knee and sustained an injury that, for now, will keep him out of the lineup for the next couple of games.
The Maple Leafs were already having goaltending issues with Matt Murray out for at least another week and because of it had to sign Keith Petruzzelli to a two-year entry-level contract. While the big Marlies’ goalie could be a great addition to the team, it’s not an ideal situation, especially with how Samsonov was playing to start the year.
Through eight games with the Maple Leafs, Samsonov had a 6-2-0 record with a 2.23 goals against average (GAA) and .921 save percentage (SV%). But goaltending injuries isn’t something new for this team so we’ll see how they deal with this latest bump in the road.
Plus Two: Maple Leafs’ John Tavares Still Has ‘It’
For those critics who had John Tavares written off, it’s time to re-write the book. The Maple Leafs 32-year-old captain has been the most consistent player for them this season and capped off his 11th career hat trick against the Flyers on Nov. 2 to finish the game with four points on the team’s five goals.
More importantly, he has seven goals and 14 points through 12 games to start the year and remains a leader both on and off the ice, getting involved in skirmishes and kicking it into another gear when the team needs it.
His consistency has also come with a torrid start from William Nylander, his linemate for all but one game this season and a guy that seems to feed off of the play of Tavares as well. Together the two have led the Maple Leafs this season helping them get a couple wins when the top line wasn’t able to put the puck in the net to kick off the year.
Tavares is on pace for 95 points this season if he were to play a full 82-game season at his current scoring rate, which would be a career year for the veteran centre.
Minus Two: Jake Muzzin’s Future is Unknown
More from the injury front as defenceman Jake Muzzin’s career might be in jeopardy following an injury that is seemingly neck related that was suffered against the Arizona Coyotes earlier in the season.
Muzzin did visit with a neck specialist which raised even more concern over his long-term health and has the team questioning his playing future if he were to suffer another injury of that sort.
“Jake Muzzin was in California to see a specialist last week looking at the head and neck area where he has had a number of injuries, and I can tell you there is legitimate concern about what the next hit could look like if he were to return,” said NHL insider Chris Johnston regarding the injury.
Based on that alone, the assumption has to be that Muzzin’s career is almost surely at risk leaving a Muzzin-sized hole on the Maple Leafs’ back end.
Plus Three: Liljegren Returns With Confidence
While the Maple Leafs will have to proceed this season without Muzzin, the return of Timothy Liljegren could be a filler if he can continue to develop. Last season, Liljegren jumped into the lineup next to Mark Giordano and looked like he belonged in the NHL very nicely.
He suffered an injury in training camp early, but made his debut on Nov. 5 against the Bruins and didn’t seem to lose a step. He played 15:50 in his return to the lineup and finished with one shot on goal, but and defensive mistakes were minimal.
Last season, Liljegren finished with five goals and 23 points in 61 games which landed him in 11th in Calder Trophy voting for the NHL Rookie of the Year.
He could be a major factor for the Maple Leafs this year in a top-four role, which is an even better opportunity for him to solidify his position with the team moving forward.
Minus Three: Where Oh Where is Nick Robertson?
Called up, he scored two goals against the Dallas Stars including the game-winner. Since then, however, we haven’t seen as much of Nick Robertson as we’ve liked. Healthy scratched or stapled to the bench in the games that he has dressed, Robertson has had the Shane Wright treatment at times this season, but why?
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Sure, he’s averaging more ice-time at just under 12 minutes per game, but he’s a player that Leafs Nation is really wanting to see. After all, he’s been in the organization for some time and while he’s still just 21 years old, the Maple Leafs will need to see what they have in the offensively driven forward.
Give it time as the Maple Leafs have a full deck of forwards to run through and that should figure itself out as the season progresses, whether it be because of injury or roster moves to fill other holes within the lineup.
As for what’s next for the Maple Leafs, they get set to take on the Carolina Hurricanes on Nov. 6 in Carolina before heading home for another home stand kicking off later in the week.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.