MAPLE LEAFS NOTES: Goalies put their stamp on express mail

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Maple Leafs forwards must look for a long-distance delivery.

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Ilya Samsonov sending one puck express on Monday that resulted in a John Tavares goal might become a regular routing.

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“When a goalie does something like that, it makes teams have to stay on the ice a little more, extend their shifts,” Mitch Marner said after Tuesday’s practice. “It makes people think a little more.

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“That pass was cool, a little (crease) spinnarama that not a lot of people saw coming, just a great heads-up play.”

Samsonov said he spied the Islanders penalty killers going to the bench, leaving an even bigger man-advantage gap, getting the puck to Tavares via William Nylander. The bang-bang nature of that play is much different than earlier in the season when Samsonov had some communication problems with his new teammates, particularly whether to play pucks or hand off to defencemen.

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Both Samsonov and Matt Murray know they have some extremely talented forwards who can do even more damage if they get pucks to them in a hurry.

“We do talk a lot about that, if we can catch the other team on line changes,” said head coach Sheldon Keefe. “In a second period especially (Leafs have the most middle frame goals in the NHL) you want a goaltender to have that ability to go there and a player to be in that spot to receive it. Willy was able to signal he wanted it.”

It should be noted that Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin almost scored an empty-netter in his team’s 6-2 victory over Florida on Monday, and Wednesday likely will be the second straight home game that Samsonov opposes a fellow Russian after out-duelling Ilya Sorokin of the Islanders.

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Matt Martin was originally brought to Toronto “to keep the flies away” as Mike Babcock phrased it, so that young stars such as Mitch Marner could thrive without fear of bodily harm.

The two became off-ice pals despite an age and talent gap and it was Marner whom Martin quietly invited to tag along the day he proposed to Sydney Esiason in front of the ‘Love Locks’ display in Toronto’s Distillery District in 2018.

“I was the photographer,” laughed Marner, who moved in on cue when Sydney’s back was turned and Matt got on bended knee. “That was a great day and we had a lot of great times together.”

The two players reunited outside the Leafs room after Monday’s game, a 5-2 win over Martin’s Islanders.

“They’re unbelievable people,” Marner said. “Their two daughters (Windsor and Alice) are awesome and I’ve been Face-timing them. I haven’t met them (in person) yet because of our schedules haven’t matched up and we haven’t played on the Island. But that’s our (Mitch and fiancé Stephanie Lachance) goal this year. And I want to see his dog, Jax, who I’m buddies with as well. It’s been a long time since we hung out.

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“He’s a one-of-a-kind man, we were very lucky to have him in Toronto and he was a great mentor.”


The Leafs and Rangers play their second game of the season, with Toronto looking to avenge a 3-1 loss on Dec. 15 at Madison Square Garden. Former Leafs forward Jimmy Vesey scored twice.

While Keefe’s line juggling made headlines in Toronto, counterpart Gerard Gallant did much the same in the Florida game, scrambling all four units. Three of them scored, but he’s not throwing out too many plaudits with his team trying to hold off the Capitals and Penguins for third place in the Metropolitan Division.

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Shesterkin is the league’s second busiest goalie in terms of minutes played to Connor Hellebuyck of Winnipeg.

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Nylander’s next point will be his 400th … The Rangers have called up 6-foot-3 Toronto-born winger Will Cuylle from Hartford for what could be his first NHL game … Rangers radio broadcaster Howie Rose marked 38 years since his first game this week. He tweeted that memory Tuesday: “My partner, (Hall of Fame referee) Bill Chadwick as we were closing, meant to say ‘you’ve got a long career ahead of you, and you’re on your way’. It came out, ‘you’ve got a long way to go and you’re going fast!’” … Former Leafs defenceman Ian White is still going at age 38 and 10 years after his last NHL appearance, signing with the ECHL Norfolk Admirals this week. White overcame an addiction to painkillers which began when he was being treated for a number of his injuries through an 11-year NHL career.

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