The news of Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Jack Campbell’s rib injury wasn’t what many in Leafs Nation expected to hear. With goaltending being a main talking point since the calendar flipped to January, an injury to your starter at this time of the season isn’t exactly the best-case scenario.
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Campbell has struggled in that span as he has a .882 save percentage and 3.63 goals against average. He looked to have turned a corner with his game posting a .920 SV% or better in outings against the Seattle Kraken and Pittsburgh Penguins in February. Since then, the struggles have continued and now we know why.
With Campbell out for at least two weeks, this was the perfect opportunity for Petr Mrazek to seize that chance to take over the starter role for the time being. He’s had his ups and downs and has needed a boost in his play and confidence. In two games played, he really hasn’t grabbed the chance to take on the role as he’s given up some pretty awful goals against two bottom tier teams in the Arizona Coyotes and Buffalo Sabres.
His recent play has put the Maple Leafs in an even deeper hole than before. General manger Kyle Dubas has said that he has faith in his goaltenders. Could this all change given that they’re now at a crossroad where they need to make a decision on their goaltending and fast?
Mrazek’s Time Running Out?
A week ago, I wrote about how the Maple Leafs need to get a collective effort from both their goaltending and defense. While the defense remains a work in progress, the goaltending situation seems to be getting worse. With Mrazek taking over the starting role in Campbell’s absence, he isn’t off to a great start.
Against the Coyotes, Mrazek allowed two high danger goals against on three shots and had a .636 SV% at five-on-five. To make matters worse, he allowed four goals against while his expected goals against was only 0.93. The first three goals, there was no one to blame but Mrazek, as they were goals where he was either too aggressive coming out of the crease or couldn’t locate the puck. Head coach Sheldon Keefe didn’t look pleased post game after he previously said that this was his chance to rise above. (0:40 mark)
The performance was nowhere near as it needed to be for a goaltender making $3.8 million. Keefe did give Mrazek a second chance to redeem himself after a poor start. In the Heritage Classic. It didn’t get any better.
Against the Sabres, Mrazek finished with a .862 SV% and allowed four goals against where his xGA was 2.23. While he looked comfortable early on in the game, he continued to look out of sorts at times as he was still over aggressive with his movements and had slow reaction time. While one goal against was deflected in, he was still out of position and wasn’t able to recover. Another was on an extremely bad angle, which is inexcusable that late in the game to give up a goal like that. When the team needed him most, he couldn’t rise to the occasion as the poor goals against continued.
Based on his recent play, the clock seems to be ticking and time is running out for Mrazek to put together a string of meaningful games to go above and beyond. He has allowed four or more goals against in each of his last five starts. That just can’t happen. Yes, defense hasn’t been great at times, but valuable points are being left on the table as a result of the goalies not being able to make a save or be relied on in key situations.
Can Källgren Steal the Starter Role?
As disappointing as Mrazek’s performance was in the game against the Coyotes, there was a glimmer of hope with goaltending prospect Erik Källgren coming in to stop the bleeding.
Being put in a very difficult position with his team down 4-1, Källgren didn’t look out of place. He was comfortable, poised and confident in his first NHL game. He made some very impressive and difficult saves in a 5-4 overtime loss, either from far out or dealing with traffic in front of the net. His best save of the night came in overtime, with a fantastic pad save that would eventually spring William Nylander for a scoring opportunity.
Although it was a very, very small sample, Källgren definitely deserves more looks after he was put into a tough scenario.
It’s impressive for Källgren to come in like that to give his team a spark and a fighting chance to get back into the game. However, this isn’t anything new for the 25-year-old. He caught the attention of the Maple Leafs with his play in 2020-21 with Vaxjo in the SHL, winning the league championship. His play alone earned a contract and now is getting an opportunity to compete for a potential job in the future.
With the Toronto Marlies in the American League this season, Källgren has a 15-8-1 record with a .904 SV% and 3.02 GAA. It may not seem like much, but he is capable of playing at the pro level. It’s never easy to give the starting job to player with minimal NHL experience. However, because of his resume at the pro level, why not give him the chance to succeed and give him more starts. Especially if Mrazek continues on his downward trend and has performances like his last two starts.
Is it risky? Yes, but you might be able to get more consistency out of Källgren after he stood tall coming in relief against the Coyotes. That composure and confidence is what was the team has lacked in net and he has that. We all got a glimpse of what he can do at the NHL level. Now is the time to see more and maybe give him most of the starts until Campbell comes back after his injury. But will that alone be enough?
Making a Deadline Deal
The easiest solution would be for Dubas to go out and make a deal to bring in a goaltender. While the goalie market isn’t strong, the chatter has already picked up as the Maple Leafs have inquired about Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Marc- Andre Fleury.
Is it possible that they can make a bigger deal at the deadline in order to acquire one? Of course. But either way, bringing in a goalie at the deadline is going to be difficult because the price might be higher given the Maple Leafs situation. As a player, it’ll also be difficult to come in and try to adjust to a new team in such a short amount time compared to a forward or defender.
The Maple Leafs are now at a crossroads in regards to their goaltending situation. Do they still find the faith in what they have to turn the corner or try to stop the bleeding by bringing in some reassurance? As the trade deadline approaches, it’ll be interesting to see how things unfold.
Peter is in his third year with The Hockey Writers, covering the Toronto Maple Leafs and heading the Draft and Prospects section. He has previously interned at The Hockey News and worked on Toronto Marlies broadcasts for Rogers TV. He currently is the co-host of the podcast Sticks in the 6ix and a frequent guest on Maple Leafs Lounge. Aside from hockey, he also enjoys drumming, animation and impressions/ voices.