Last night against the Calgary Flames, it was time for the Toronto Maple Leafs to give backup goalie a start. First, he was returning from an injury and this was the first game he had been cleared to play. Second, his body of work this season has been solid: in his last game prior to sitting out with his injury, he had thrown a 4-0 shutout against the currently-tied-for-first Edmonton Oilers. Third, Frederik Andersen was still suffering from an injury himself and wasn’t able to play.
To cut to the chase, Campbell stoned the Flames by a 2-0 score. In fact, after the game Flames’ goalie David Rittich even admitted: ”I would rather say I outplayed Jack Campbell, but he outplayed me,” Rittich said. ”He was really good.”
In this edition of Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll comment about the game and about what it might means going forward. Specifically, as Sportsnet’s Luke Fox wrote after the game last night, it might be time for the Maple Leafs to give Campbell the net for a while. Not only has Campbell been good, but Andersen has not been his usual dominant self. There’s no doubt in my mind he’s still hampered by a lower-body injury he suffered earlier this month, and his 2-5-0 record and .876 save percentage suggest as much.
Item One: Jack Campbell Records Second Straight Shutout
How good has Jack Campbell been recently? He’s played shutout hockey for 133.27 minutes in a row and has stopped 71 straight shots in a row. If you care about such things, the Maple Leafs’ leader for consecutive shutout minutes is goalie Turk Broda who set the franchise record during the 1950-51 season with 245.33 minutes.
Last night Campbell stopped all 31 shots he faced in the team’s 2-0 win over the Flames. Campbell’s good work is really not much of a surprise; since he came to the Maple Leafs in a trade last season, he has a record of 7-2-1 record with a save percentage of .934. Only he and Andersen have tended their team to consecutive shutouts since 2013, when Ben Scrivens did it in February of that season.
In his article written and posted last night after 1 am, Fox noted that at the end of the game that brought an end to the Maple Leafs’ losing streak, 21 teammates skated to congratulate Campbell one at a time. His backup on the night Michael Hutchinson presented him with the game puck, and both Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner took extra time to add their own special messages to Campbell.
Campbell noted that he would keep most of what they told him to himself, but he did add two notes: (a) (their messages were) “basically, about my battling through the adversity. It’s been a long road and tough year with the injury;” and, (b) “those guys mean the world to me. I look up to them. So, it just makes me more motivated to play well next week.” There’s some mutual respect on this team.
Given the game’s outcome, Campbell’s strong play this season, and Andersen’s injury and average play, is it time as Fox asks in his article “for Jack Campbell to be given the Maple Leafs’ net?” Andersen’s play has not been up to his own standards; and, when Campbell is healthy, he’s has been really strong. He stops the puck; he doesn’t give up many rebounds; he inspires confidence; and, his teammates play hard for him.
Item Two: Jason Spezza Scores in His Second Straight Game
Jason Spezza scored the first goal of the game – his seventh goal of the season – in his team’s 2-0 win over the Flames. Because the Flames were shutout, that goal stood as the game-winner. He also scored the game-winning goal on Feb. 4 against the Vancouver Canucks.
Related: The 50 Goal Season
If you haven’t had a chance to see Spezza’s goal last night, it was a beauty. It also suggests that he hasn’t lost his touch. It was a perfectly-placed shot that went over Rittich’s glove, and it’s probably like many others of the 348 goals Spezza has scored in his career. Last night coach Keefe jumped his ice time to 12:17, which is a couple minutes more than usual.
All that is to say that Spezza’s playing well and has been good value for the team this season. He now has scored goals in two straight games and typically is trustworthy taking face-offs in his team’s defensive zone. Last night was one of the few games that Spezza has lost more draws than he has won (8/10).
Item Three: Zach Hyman Continues to Score
Zach Hyman’s been on a hot streak and scored the team’s second goal of Saturday game. Over his last three games, he’s totaled four points (three of them goals). There’s really no one else like Hyman on the team. He’s always had that special ability to scramble and win puck battles and move the puck to the team’s stars – that’s mostly hard work.
But this season, he’s shown both a scoring touch and an ability and a desire to consider himself an offensive weapon. It looks as if he’s started to think of himself as a go-to option on offense, and that thinking has added to the team’s scoring. He’s on a pace that’s had him score 20 points in 30 games. If he continues, he could come close to having his best season ever.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
Given that Andersen is dealing with a lower-body injury that’s caused him to miss four-games between Feb. 22 to March 1 (he probably came back too early), it’s likely that Campbell will inherit the net for the time being. Whether Campbell’s time in net lasts past Andersen’s injury or not might become an interesting dilemma. Much depends upon how Campbell responds to becoming the de facto starter.
How he responds is a question we simply don’t know the answer to. Since his first game with the Dallas Stars in 2013-14, he’s only played 68 NHL games in total. By the way, last night’s victory evened his NHL career record at 27-27-6.
However, should Campbell keep playing well, he’ll likely ignite a goalie controversy among Maple Leafs’ fans. He has an advocate in me.