By the Numbers: Toronto's troubles between the pipes
TSN Toronto Reporter Mark Masters reports on the Maple Leafs, who skated at Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg on Thursday ahead of tonight’s game against the Jets.
Paul Maurice broke into a smile and interrupted a Toronto-based columnist asking about Winnipeg's goaltending situation.
"You have a completely legitimate question," the Jets bench boss acknowledged, "and now I'm coaching two teams … because I know the story, right. If you have a website [up] you're going to get the Toronto articles."
Maurice, of course, once coached the Leafs and understands the media circus that follows the team and how one quote can quickly grow legs. And, he knows what the big issue is right now in the centre of the hockey universe.
Sheldon Keefe was blunt after watching David Rittich allow five goals on 28 shots in a loss on Tuesday in Vancouver. The Leafs coach readily admitted he is concerned about his team's goaltending.
After a record-breaking start, Jack Campbell has dropped three straight games and has an .872 save percentage over his last six games. He'll make his 15th start of the season tonight.
Frederik Andersen continues to skate, but there is no timeline for his return from a lower-body injury, which has kept him sidelined since March 19.
Meanwhile, Maurice can send Vezina Trophy winner Connor Hellebuyck out for his 37th start of the season tonight. He is the clear No. 1 in Winnipeg.
"The advantage for me is … I don't have to spend much time worrying about it," Maurice finally said.
Hellebuyck has a .919 save percentage this season and has been really good against the Leafs (.929 save percentage in six games).
"It gives you a ton of confidence to just go play," said Jets defenceman Josh Morrissey. "He's just so solid in the net. He never looks out of control or rattled or like anything's bothering him. He's just so calm. We know he's prepared to play and prepared to be at his best and that sort of radiates out through the team."
Campbell, on the other hand, has never been the main guy for an NHL team before. He has also been really down on himself of late. After an overtime goal squeezed through him in Vancouver on Sunday, Campbell admitted he was in a slump and felt like he cost the team two points.
Keefe is giving goalie coach Steve Briere some space to work with Campbell.
"It's just getting back to the plan that he had that led him to success and clearing his head and just focusing on being a good goaltender, having some fun and not putting too much pressure or expectations on himself," said Keefe. "Just go out there and play."
One week ago, Campbell allowed three goals on six shots and was pulled in the first period against the Jets.
"That hasn't entered into my mind at all, to be honest," Keefe insisted. "These games come fast and furious here with the schedule and even though it's just a few games ago, it feels like a long time ago and a lot has transpired since then. So, it hasn't entered into my mind at all. In fact, if anything, what's entered my mind is the last time we were in here and Jack was unbelievable so we're living in that head space."
Campbell won Toronto's previous two games in Winnipeg, stopping 57 of 59 shots. With 10 games left in the regular season, Campbell doesn't have much time to rediscover that form.
The first-place Leafs are winless in five (0-3-2), which is their longest such skid of the season. Toronto's lead on Winnipeg is down to four points with the Jets holding a game in hand.
"Our guys are really even keel," said Keefe. "They're really confident in their own abilities and the collective ability of the team … We didn't get results out there in Vancouver, but the scoring chances over the two games were 52 to 17 in favour of us so we have lots of reasons to continue to believe in what we're doing."
Nick Foligno will make his Leafs debut tonight on the top line with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner.
"Might as well jump right in, right," he said with a grin.
Foligno and Matthews played together on a line at the 2016 World Championship.
"He was a young kid, but he dominated the Worlds even then," recalled Foligno. "I had a lot of fun playing with him many years ago and hopefully we can rekindle some of the magic and, obviously, it won't hurt having Mitch Marner on the other side."
Alex Galchenyuk will shift to the second line with John Tavares and William Nylander.
"John and Will are really rolling right now ... and they had good chemistry with Galchenyuk previously," Keefe explained. "The Matthews-Marner line could use a little boost right now and it's normally the type of time when you'd put [Zach] Hyman with those guys. Obviously, Zach's not available [due to a MCL sprain] so I just thought it's a good fit and it's a great way to introduce Nick to our team."
Twice Keefe approached Foligno to make sure he was comfortable playing tonight. After all, the 33-year-old just came out of a week-long quarantine and hasn't even had a full practice with the team yet.
"I'm sure it will take me a little while, but short shifts tonight and I'm just going to have fun with it," Foligno said. "I think I'll be playing off adrenaline more than anything."
Foligno has recorded 109 hits this season, which is 26 more than Jake Muzzin who leads the Leafs with 83.
"What I bring is that physical presence, you know, nothing flashy," Foligno said. "I'm obviously able to play on the offensive side, but [I'm] just a steady presence out there."
"A big reason why you acquire veteran players is because they know exactly who they are," noted Keefe. "They know exactly what works for them. They know what they need to bring."
It should be an emotional night for Foligno, who is following in his father's footsteps. Mike Foligno helped the Leafs reach the conference final back in 1993 and Nick was wearing an old hat from those days at his media availability.
"Nice to be able to rock it and bring a little bit of old with the new," Foligno said. "A lot of great memories of that time and nice to kind of bring it in here. What was the saying back then? The passion returns? Hopefully I can bring a little of that into the mix here."
Zach Bogosian is sidelined with a suspected shoulder injury. The team is awaiting a diagnosis, but the right-side rearguard will miss at least a week and likely more.
Ben Hutton, acquired from the Anaheim Ducks at the deadline, has joined the team, but won't play tonight.
The third defence pair will feature 21-year-old Rasmus Sandin and Travis Dermott, a lefty who will shift over.
"Sandin is more of a priority for us now, to get him up and going, and we want to get Dermott back involved," Keefe said. "The first thing for Hutton is just to get comfortable and get back going again and I would think we'll get him in at some point in time. That's what I've told him, but he's going to have to be patient with it."
Sandin just returned from a fractured foot and looked good in logging more than 16 minutes on Tuesday. It was only his third game since the pandemic started.
"He's got a confident attitude towards the game in the best way," observed defenceman Morgan Rielly. "He goes out there and has fun. I was happy for him. I thought he played well and whenever he's in our lineup it’s always a lot of fun to watch him. The more that he plays and the more exposure he gets the more confident he'll be and he's just going to keep growing into a great defenceman for us."
Ilya Mikheyev is a game-time decision with an undisclosed injury.
Lines at Thursday's morning skate:
Foligno - Matthews - Marner
Galchenyuk - Tavares - Nylander
Mikheyev - Kerfoot - Simmonds
Thornton - Brooks - Spezza
Rielly - Brodie
Muzzin - Holl
Sandin - Dermott