Home sport Matt Murray’s latest injury could test the depth of the Maple Leafs’ guard

Matt Murray’s latest injury could test the depth of the Maple Leafs’ guard

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April 3, 2023, at 12:02 a.m

TORONTO — While they play these painfully meaningless games, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ greatest hope is to have games that are painless and meaningless.

A first-round rematch with the Tampa Bay Lightning became official over the weekend, but that fate has been a near sporting certainty for months, thanks to the NHL’s strict divisional ranking format.

Or as Ilya Samsonov shrugged, “We know we’re going to play Tampa in the playoffs in February and January, yeah? Everyone knows. It’s no surprise to us.”

Since the trade deadline, the Leafs have been talking about fine line combinations and defense pairings, optimizing the lineup best suited to drive out demons, kill dragons or whatever metaphor you prefer to win a streak.

Tricky things.

However, the unspoken fear during this time in purgatory is that a major player could succumb to something bigger than the bumps and bruises, especially with a saved trade option pass on the roster.

Ryan O’Reilly broke his finger? Hello! But will he recover in time for Game 83? miss out!

After all, life was smooth, if uneventful, in Leafland.

Yes, we may be stuck in the waiting room for two weeks before entering Andrei Vasilevskiy & Co. In town, but at least there are some interesting magazines and nobody coughs after us.

Auston Matthews looks rejuvenated and engaged. The newly formed lock-up duo of Jake McCabe and TJ Brodie sharpens the task. The power play avoided the usual late-March swoon. And goalkeeper No. 1 Samsonov is right there and he hits the ball with my father’s strength.

“We don’t want to flinch in any way,” Sheldon Keefe reminds us – even when the coach himself lets something slip by not wearing his top 20 players.

(Heck, coach, tapped checking center David Kampf for a shot on goal on Sunday simply on a ‘feeling’ basis. Maybe he’s bored, too.)

Keefe thinks Mitch Marner won’t mind chasing after 100 points if he allows the catalyst to catch his breath ahead of the sport’s most exciting tournament.

Against this backdrop of caution, hope, and anxious anticipation, Matt Murray’s header hit the ice in the first period of Sunday’s 5-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings.

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Lucas Raymond appeared to lose his balance as he cut through Murray’s blue paint and knocked over the goalkeeper’s left leg, causing Murray to roll six-foot-five backwards and slam his neck into the ice. (Raymond skated back to apologize to Murray before standing up.)

After speaking with a coach, Murray skated into the tunnel and did not return, leaving Samsonov’s replacement to play more than five periods in 27 hours.

Murray was tested for concussion and Keefe was told it was “mandatory” for the goalkeeper to leave the game. No further updates were given on his condition.

“You don’t like to see that. I hope Matt is okay. Very unexpected, so he doesn’t have a chance to prepare for or feel the impact,” said John Tavares.

“He’s been playing real solid hockey for us this year and he couldn’t get much traction that way because of some of the things he was up against.”

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In addition to the adductor muscle and ankle injuries he battled for the Maple Leafs, Murray has a history of concussions from his pre-Toronto days.

The most recent dealt with symptoms left in the off-season following a March 4, 2022 collision with fellow Sen. Nikita Zaitsev.

“I’m sad. Hard. Hard for him. Hard for.” [his] Samsonov told his synonymous colleague.

“It’s difficult for us. It’s the third. We don’t know how long it will last or anything. The third injury is really difficult, and I’m very sad about it.”

If there’s any consolation here, it’s that Samsonov has found the rhythm and depth options of the AHL’s Joseph Wall and Eric Kalgren to be more promising than they were in the playoffs.

Wall, 24, is enjoying his best season as a pro, posting a record of 16-4-1 with a 0.927 save percentage for the Marlies and a 3-1-0 and 0.934 odds in his four games with the Maple Leafs.

However, Wall has never tasted the NHL playoffs, while Murray has two Cup rings.

Before jumping to conclusions, let’s wait for Murray’s diagnosis, which could arrive on Tuesday. (The Maple Leafs take off Monday.)

Keefe simply said he would bounce back.

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Quick Focus 5

• Hope you don’t spend too much on tickets, Marner fanatics.

The Maple Leafs are in full load management mode, as the star winger joined top four D-men Mark Giordano and McCabe on the sidelines Sunday to rest for meaningful games.

Marner averages an ice time of 21:22 — fifth among all NHL forwards — and has 11 consecutive points collected Saturday in Ottawa.

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“Mitch wants to play every game,” Keefe said. “I think Mitch sees the bigger picture and recognizes it and knows how he feels, and knows he’s been playing a lot.”

• The Maple Leafs now dressed 45 players in 2022-23, more than any other team in the league.

• Tavares, who once again scored on a power play, now ranks fifth in the league in power points (36). His equally strong production (40 points) puts him in 78th place.

It’s no secret that Tavares looks like a more dangerous 5-vs-5 when paired with Marner; William Nylander does not appear often on the captain’s home plate.

“A lot of his shots and scoring opportunities come in the middle of the ice, they go in the hole and go around the net. Anytime you’re a player like that, you depend on your winger, you depend on the other guys to make it happen,” Keefe explains.

“I associate that a lot with the fact that Will, his game wasn’t on the same level.”

• Toronto is horrible 0-7 in a shootout this season.

Keefe says he “loves” the coach’s option to choose the two-minute power play instead of the penalty kick.

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He says he won’t automatically take the power play, but he’ll appreciate the choice, depending on the state of the game.

• The Red Wings have three goaltenders on their roster, none of whom have a save percentage of 0.900: Phil Hosio (.899), Alex Nedelkovic (0.888) and Magnus Helberg (.891).

However, Nedeljkovic was excellent on Sunday, making 42 saves in the win. Murray and Samsonov combined to score 18 times.

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