TSN Toronto reporter Mark Masters checks in daily with news and notes on the Maple Leafs. The team (optional) and Flyers (optional) skated at Scotiabank Arena ahead of tonight's game.
One of the most surprising developments for the Leafs during this rocky week has been the play of Frederik Andersen, who has been the backbone of the team all season, but suddenly looks off his game. The 29-year-old Dane allowed eight goals on 33 shots while getting pulled from consecutive starts for the first time in his NHL career.
“Freddie’s a big boy,” said head coach Mike Babcock. “One of the reasons you go to see him in the off-season is you talk about the maturation of a goalie and a starter and how mentally tough you got to be to get to where we want to go.”
Babcock didn’t necessarily plan to meet with Andersen Thursday, but the pair did get a chance to assess things anyway.
“We had a little Danish thing with our meal so he happened to be talking to me about it,” Babcock revealed. “And we talked about it. It was just one of those things that, he’s been around a long time and I think for all of us getting a good slapping once in a while is a good thing. You just adjust and you get back at it.”
On Monday night, Andersen insisted he “felt pretty good, actually” about his game and Babcock acknowledged part of the reason for the pull against Tampa Bay was to save his No. 1 on a night the rest of the team didn't have it. On Wednesday night, Andersen also didn't seem particularly concerned about his performance.
“I mean, maybe the second goal I didn't like too much,” he said in his post-game scrum, “it was a rolling puck, but what can you do?”
Andersen has arguably been Toronto's MVP this season, thrusting himself prominently into the Vezina Trophy conversation, and you can argue Toronto has never needed him more.
The defence is dealing with two key injuries as Travis Dermott (shoulder) and Jake Gardiner (back) have been sidelined since Feb. 27. The team’s depth is being tested with uneven results so far and tonight Justin Holl draws in for Igor Ozhiganov.
Dermott, expected to miss four weeks, has been skating before the main team sessions every day this week, including this morning when he was joined by Kasperi Kapanen (concussion) for a 35-minute workout. Gardiner, meanwhile, has not been spotted on the ice since the injury.
“I think as D we can be better,” said Jake Muzzin, who has taken over from Gardiner as quarterback on the second power-play unit. “Moving the puck a little quicker, a little crisper whether it's pushing them deep with a few long bombs or keeping it tight underneath. So, we got to understand which plays are best for us and then execute it.”
After missing nearly three weeks of action with a concussion, Nazem Kadri will play his fourth game back tonight. How's he feeling?
“Pretty good,” he said. “The first period or two of the first game, it was just a timing thing really. You do these vigorous activities and these hard skates kind of gets you focused and mentally prepared for the conditioning grind so that’s kind of said and done, but it’s just that when you’re out for even a week it seems like the timing and everything is just so fast coming back and it takes a little time to adjust. The last couple games I’ve definitely been feeling more like myself.”
Kadri has two assists and nine shots since returning to his usual spot as third-line centre.
“He's starting to skate,” Babcock observed. “The first game I thought was just okay. I thought the last game he was way better and more competitive. We need Naz to be nasty and ultra-competitive and play as hard as he can and, in order for us to be a good team, we need that. We need that from all our good players, you need it from everyone, but you really need it from your good players so it’s important for Naz. Now, when you look at it, he got a good break and a good freshen up so he should be that much fresher than everybody.”
Kadri is looking forward to matching wits with James van Riemsdyk, who will return to his old NHL home for the second time this season.
"It's fun," Kadri said of the on-ice reunion. “It’s entertaining. JvR was always a guy I loved to be around and he was a great teammate while he was here and a great player. He’s going to be a focus on their team; he’s great around the net. We know the kind of hands he has and the kind of scoring ability he has so we’ll try and (smiles) cross-check him a couple times.”
Any favourite JvR stories?
“I got many, but none I’m going to tell you,” he said with a laugh.
Zach Hyman missed Wednesday's game due to illness, didn't participate in practice Thursday and didn't skate this morning. Babcock said the left winger will be a game-time decision. If Hyman can't play, here is Toronto's projected lineup:
BOLD = Participated in optional morning skate