Despite Saturday's self-critique, Campbell proving he can handle workload
TSN Toronto Reporter Mark Masters reports on the Maple Leafs, who held an optional skate at T-Mobile Arena on Tuesday ahead of tonight’s game against the Vegas Golden Knights.
Jack Campbell faced a season-high 49 shots on Saturday in Colorado, but still gave the Leafs a great opportunity to steal a couple points against the surging Avalanche. The goalie, however, didn't see it that way.
"If I play up to my standard, we win that game every time," a downcast Campbell said following the 5-4 overtime loss.
Early in his career, Campbell let losses linger and struggled to ride the emotional waves that come during a lengthy season. Despite Saturday's self-critique, coach Sheldon Keefe believes Campbell has made "tremendous progress" in this area.
"Regardless of how he answers questions, the proof is when he's in the net," Keefe said. "He's just even keel. He just goes out and prepares for the next day and comes back and is ready to play. He was outstanding the other night in Colorado ... He has been great all season and Colorado was no different."
Campbell will be back between the pipes on Tuesday against the division-leading Knights. It will be the Michigan native's 26th start of the season, which matches his previous career high in the National Hockey League. Campbell played 22 games last season and would've logged even more minutes, but missed time due to a nagging leg injury.
"The big question coming in for him was could he stay healthy and he's done a great job of that," Keefe said. "Players get hurt all the time and things happen, but despite the workload there hasn't been a time where he's felt unable to practise or sore or anything like that. It's been really good. We've managed his workload on some practice days, but that's just preventative more than anything."
Campbell, who turned 30 on Sunday, established himself as an NHL starter last season posting a 17-3-2 record and .921 save percentage. He's been even better this season. Campbell is 17-5-3 and will set a new career high with a win in Vegas. Despite allowing five goals on Saturday, Campbell's save percentage remains a sparkling .936.
"He and the medical team have found a real nice groove and our strength and conditioning team has done a terrific job of helping him," Keefe said. "He's in a good place with his body and managing this very well. We've had a significant break and light schedule here so all those things combined have got him feeling good."
Campbell's performance has been magnified, because of how little newcomer Petr Mrazek has played.
"We went into this season thinking we'd have two goaltenders we would be able to rely upon on any given night," Keefe said. "It hasn't worked out that way but, fortunately for us, Jack's been rolling. It's worked out as a positive in Jack's case, because he's taken the ball and run with it and built momentum and built confidence in his own game and found a rhythm and a groove and then, at the same time, our team has grown confidence in Jack."
Mrazek, who has been dealing with a groin injury basically all season, will get the start on Wednesday in Arizona. It will be his fourth game with the Leafs and first since Dec. 11.
"It is sort of like a new season for him," said Keefe. "It's been so long since he's played. We had a pre-season type of feel before coming out on this road trip. He should very much be looking at it like a fresh start. Our schedule is going to heat up eventually. It's light right now and will be, for the most part, through the rest of the month, but it is going to heat up down the stretch for sure. We have a ton of hockey to play down the stretch and we're going to need Petr."
The Leafs have played just 33 games this season. Only Colorado, Boston, Dallas, Ottawa and the New York Islanders have played fewer games.
Right winger Ondrej Kase appears poised to return to the lineup.
"He seems good to the point where he didn't feel the need to skate this morning," Keefe said. "He's confident he'll be able to play tonight, but it is one of those injuries that could flare up at any time so we'll have an extra forward in warm-up and make a decision at that time."
Brett Seney, who played six minutes and 52 seconds in Saturday's game, didn't stay out late at the morning skate and appears to be on standby if Kase has a setback.
Kase missed two games after tweaking something in the gym last week. He skated on the top line and top power-play unit at Monday's practice.
Keefe likes the way defenceman Justin Holl is trending.
"I've been really happy with Justin Holl's game since we've come back from this break," Keefe said. "Nobody's going to play a perfect game, especially with the challenging minutes that those guys take and the roles they play at five-on-five and on the penalty kill. Those are tough minutes against very good players, but I've seen great progress in Holl's game and that's a real positive, obviously, for him and that pairing and our team in general."
Per NaturalStatTrick, Holl (62.8) and partner Jake Muzzin (63.1) rank second and third on the Leafs in expected goals for percentage since the calendar flipped to 2022. Holl has played in all three games since the Leafs resumed their schedule while Muzzin has been in two.
"It's only been a couple games since we've been back, but I feel like we've been pretty good," Holl said. "There's plays you'd like to make differently in every game so I don't think I'm playing perfect hockey by any sense, but I think we're on the right track. We're tilting the ice in our favour on most nights."
Keefe acknowledged that Muzzin, who was on the ice for three Avalanche goals on Saturday, has been a bit rusty in the two games since coming out of COVID protocol.
Holl is one of a handful of Leafs players, who hasn't been in COVID protocol this season.
"We got four or five players who haven't got it yet," the Minnesota native noted. "It's one of those deals where you're pretty much powerless. If you're going to get it, you're going to get it … I'm just cruising and we'll see what happens."
Is there any trepidation when the daily test results come in?
"I really don't think about it day to day, but you do think about it long-term," Holl said. "Like, I'd hate to get it at a really bad time."
Mitch Marner and Pierre Engvall remain in COVID protocol and will miss a second straight game.
The Golden Knights are tied with the Anaheim Ducks for the most games played this season (38), but Vegas has still been impacted by the pandemic. In fact, it's unclear who may be available for them in Thursday's game.
After dealing with the high-octane Avalanche on Saturday, the Leafs are expecting a similar challenge on Tuesday in Vegas.
"They're really good on the rush," Holl noted. "Similar to Colorado, they're at the top of the league in rush chances for and they're also good at defending the rush."
Colorado and Vegas both get a lot of offence from their defence. Vegas led the NHL last season in goals from defencemen (36) and currently rank second in that category (26 goals) behind the Avalanche (35).
"A lot of similarities in their offensive game on the rush and things we saw in Colorado," Keefe observed, "but there are other elements of the game that are challenging with their physicality and how hard they play as well."
The Knights lead the NHL in blocked shots and will be looking to bounce back following a 2-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday. They have a lot of respect for the Leafs.
"Their game's real," said coach Peter DeBoer. "When you look at the analytics and dive in on them, they're just a really solid hockey team. We understand the challenge of playing a really good team like this coming in. We have to rise to the occasion."
"We enjoy those games," said defenceman Alex Pietrangelo. "We certainly play well when we play against teams that are going to test us. They're certainly a strong team offensively. Their numbers speak for themselves. For us, we've felt like our defensive structure has really gotten to that next level and no better way to test it then to play against them."
The Leafs have scored at least three goals in each of their last 14 games. Per the Elias Sports Bureau, Toronto has not had a longer streak since 1985-86 (16 games). The franchise record is 20 consecutive games (1981-82).
Projected Leafs lineup for Tuesday's game:
Bunting - Matthews - Kase
Kerfoot - Tavares - Nylander
Mikheyev - Kampf - Simmonds
Clifford - Spezza - Ritchie
Rielly - Brodie
Muzzin - Holl
Sandin - Dermott