Should Ilya Samsonov or Matt Murray Start Game One for the Maple Leafs?

Mark Freitas
FiredUp Network Sports Writer


Wednesday, March 8, 2023

The Stanley Cup Playoffs begin next month as we reach the final stretch of the NHL season. The Toronto Maple Leafs have had an impressive season after coming in the year with many question marks. One of those questions was how the goaltending tandem of Ilya Samsonov and Matt Murray would work out. 

The Maple Leafs acquired Matt Murray in the off-season from the Ottawa Senators. Insiders and fans were questioning General Manager Kyle Dubas's decision to bring in Murray as he was injured a lot in the past two seasons. In the 2022 season, Murray started in only 20 games due to injury going 5-12-2 with a .906 save percentage and 3.05 goals against average. This season was a rocky start for the former two-time Stanley Cup winner as Murray played one game for the Leafs before injuring his groin during a morning skate. 

Murray would return from the injury, and he played excellent, picking up 11 wins and two shutouts. However, once again, he would be shelved with an ankle injury that kept him out for 17 games. Murray returned to the net on Saturday against Vancouver, where he played fantastic supporting his team in the game, but the Leafs would lose 4-1. 

Besides Murray's injuries this season when he has been healthy, he has been everything the team has hoped for. Murray has played in 20 games putting up a .908 save percentage and 2.80 goals against average. He has playoff experience and knows what it takes to win the Stanley Cup. Murray has put himself in the conversation to be the starter for game one.

On the other hand, Ilya Samsonov has played outstanding for the Leafs. Samsonov played the last three seasons with the Washington Capitals. He is a former first-round pick, and the Capitals had his RFA rights and chose not to re-sign him. So Samsonov would sign a one-year contract with the Leafs where he said he wanted to bet on himself and prove that the Capitals not qualifying him was a mistake.

The excellent news for both sides is that Samsonov has shown he can be a starter, and the Leafs have him as an RFA. Samsonov has had a great season this year, with Toronto playing in 33 games with a record of 23-8-2. He has 2.41 goals against average, and a .915 save percentage. He sits eighth in goals against average for goalies and 11th in save percentage, 10th in wins and is tied for fifth in shutouts with three.

Ilya has made his case about being the starter for the playoffs to help break the Maple Leafs' 18-year first-round drought. It is good to have a 1A/1B option. Kyle Dubas and Sheldon Keefe will have a lot of discussions on who should be in the net for game one. 

 Ilya Samsonov has shown that he should be the starter for game one. He has kept the Leafs in most games this season and has made key saves when the team needs them. However, if Samsonov were to struggle in game one, the Leafs know they can also rely on Matt Murray. Time will tell, but Samsonov has earned the right to lead the Leafs in the playoffs.

Photo Credits: Toronto Maple Leafs Instagram