Columnist image
Mark Masters

SPORTSCENTRE Reporter

|Archive

TSN Toronto Reporter Mark Masters reports on the Maple Leafs, who held an optional skate at Scotiabank Arena on Saturday. 


In need of a slump-busting start, the Leafs will turn to Jack Campbell tonight. The team's back-up goalie will be playing for the first time since aggravating a leg injury on Feb. 27 in Edmonton.

"I know it's been a long road for him," said coach Sheldon Keefe. "He just continued, really, to be himself and put the work in."

"It doesn't effect his attitude or his energy," said third-line centre Alex Kerfoot. "One of the nicest guys I've ever met so any adversity that comes his way, he's able to handle it."

Campbell has only played in three games this season due to the injury.  

"He's just a positive guy," said veteran forward Jason Spezza, who got to know Campbell when both were in Dallas. "You know he's had days where he's been down and frustrated, but he tries to hide it and just comes with a great attitude."

When healthy, Campbell has been excellent, winning all three of his starts this season with a .951 save percentage. That includes a 31-save effort in Calgary on Jan. 24 when he initially sustained the leg injury. 

"Highly competitive. Never out of the play. Big saves at key times," observed Keefe. "Great energy about him both in the crease, body language and all those things, and when he comes to the bench to drink water at TV timeouts. He's got a great energy about him."

If Campbell plays well tonight it could lead to a string of starts. 

Frederik Andersen is 2-5-0 with an .876 save percentage since returning from a lower body injury on March 3 and has admitted he’s struggling to get his confidence back. It’s a big reason why the Leafs have dropped six of seven games. 

"When you're losing games it seems like every mistake ends up in the back of your net," said Spezza. "For us, as players, we have to tighten that up and we also have to know that we're doing a lot of good things. It's not fundamental changes we have to make. We just have to batten down our habits a little bit and be a little more confident in our play."

The Leafs have allowed the first goal in six of seven games, including on Friday when the first shot went in. 

"Mentally that's a tough hurdle for guys to get over," said Keefe. "We're going to have to be a lot better from the start here and look to play with the lead."

Campbell didn't have any issues with rust when he returned from the first injury absence in Edmonton. He stopped all 30 shots he faced against the Oilers. 

---

Alex Galchenyuk earned a positive review in his Leafs debut. 

"He forechecked real well," said Keefe. "I think that’s an underrated part of his game, something that is somewhat unexpected. Just the more I watched his game on video both in the NHL with Ottawa and his time with the Marlies, just the way he moves his feet and gets up the ice and puts pressure on other team’s defence. I think that created some opportunities for his line and really helped them spend time in the offensive end." 

"Definitely felt pretty good," said Galchenyuk, who was playing his first NHL game since Feb. 11. "A lot of excitement, a lot of emotions."

Galchenyuk finished with three shots on net while logging 11 minutes and 19 seconds alongside John Tavares and William Nylander.

"We worked hard," the 27-year-old said. "We were good on the forecheck. Obviously, chemistry takes a little bit of time. I think with the right work ethic we'll find it. We're trying to stick with it, throw it on net a few times and [create] a couple lucky bounces."

"When he has the puck he's confident and looks to make a play with it," said Keefe. "I liked his game. It looked to me like he had the potential to score if the puck came to him in the right spot. He looked like he was hungry and had good legs. I was encouraged with what I saw from him."

---

Wayne Simmonds was happy with how he played in his return from a broken wrist. 

"All things considered I thought it was pretty decent," he said. "I was able to do the things I wanted to do out there, but it doesn't matter much if you don't get the two points. I think, personally, I felt okay."

Simmonds picked up an assist on Spezza's first-period goal providing a good fly-by screen on Jacob Markstrom.

"He didn't get a great deal of minutes yesterday, but I thought he looked good," noted Keefe. "Obviously, I was watching that closely. He had good touches of the puck. He skated well and got involved with the forecheck so that was encouraging to see."

Simmonds played 10 minutes and 36 seconds in his first game since Feb. 6. 

---

Justin Holl landed a huge neutral-zone hit on Johnny Gaudreau in the second period, which raised the temperature in Friday's tilt. Flames defenceman Juuso Välimäki immediately confronted the Leafs defenceman taking a roughing penalty. A little later, Matthew Tkachuk challenged Holl to a fight. 

"I, personally, thought it was a clean hit, but the nature of the game is you got to answer for it so you do it," said Holl, who had only fought once previously in the NHL. 

"He did a great job," said Simmonds. "First and foremost, you want to get some licks on their better players and he did a great job there. That was a big hit on Gaudreau. A guy came up the ice after him and he handled himself and then Tkachuk challenged him to a fight and he handled himself again. The boys love to see that and I, personally, love that stuff."

What message was Tkachuk sending by dropping the gloves? 

"Don't touch Johnny like that," the gritty Flames winger explained. "I don't think a lot of guys liked the hit. Whether it was clean or whether it was dirty ... it was a little away from the boards and he could've got hurt."

Tkachuk pointed out that Holl likely wouldn't fight Milan Lucic, Sam Bennett or Brett Ritchie so he had to take the initiative. 

---

The Leafs outshot the Flames 27-18, but struggled to breakdown the Flames defence. 

"Calgary did a good job of clogging the middle in their zone," Simmonds said. "We had a lot of offensive-zone time, a lot of shots directed at the net. We've definitely got to do a better job getting second and third opportunities and breaking through their box in front of their net."

"We've got to skate through that," said Keefe. "At times you've got to shoot through that, get yourself on the inside that way."

It will help if the power play gets going again. Toronto has converted on just one of 13 chances during this seven-game swoon. So, they're not even getting two chances a game right now. 

"There's been too many times where we're too quick to give up the puck and we haven't stressed the defenders enough," Keefe said. "I think that's a big part of drawing penalties."

---

Projected Leafs lines for Saturday's game: 

Thornton - Matthews - Marner 
Galchenyuk - Tavares - Nylander 
Mikheyev - Kerfoot - Hyman 
Spezza - Engvall - Simmonds 

Rielly - Brodie 
Muzzin - Holl 
Dermott - Bogosian 

Campbell starts 
Andersen