TSN Toronto Reporter Mark Masters reports on the Maple Leafs, who practised at Ford Performance Centre on Monday ahead of Wednesday’s game against the Senators in Ottawa.
Slowed by a leg injury early in the season, Jack Campbell recovered to help lead the Leafs to their first division tittle since 2000. On Monday, the Toronto chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association named him the team's nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, which is awarded annually to the NHL player who best exemplifies perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.
"It's been a terrific story for both he and then our team to rally around," said head coach Sheldon Keefe.
Campbell has compiled a remarkable 17-2-2 record this season with a sparkling .923 save percentage.
"It hasn't been an easy road for him," noted veteran forward Jason Spezza. "He came in with very high expectations and the fact that he's persevered and not given up and now is almost re-inventing himself as a goaltender and the success he's having ... [it] couldn't happen to a better guy."
The Dallas Stars made Campbell the 11th overall pick in the 2010 draft, but the Michigan native failed to establish himself in the league initially while struggling to cope with external and internal expectations. After making just one start with Dallas in October 2013, Campbell got his career on track following a trade to the Los Angeles Kings. He calls his first start with the Kings, on Feb. 27, 2018, one of the most pressure-packed games of his career. He stopped 41 of 42 shots to beat the Golden Knights in Vegas.
"It took me a long time to get [another] start from my first one in Dallas and then I finally got the chance and I knew I kind of had to play well to prove I could play in the NHL," Campbell recalled. "I just went out and had some fun and believed in myself and that's the biggest thing."
With Frederik Andersen sidelined with a knee injury since March 19, Campbell has adjusted well to a heavier workload. He opened the year with 11 straight wins, which established a new NHL record.
Campbell hasn't played in the Stanley Cup playoffs before but Keefe, who hasn't named a Game 1 starter yet, doesn't anticipate a learning curve.
"The game is the same," the coach said. "The pucks and the traffic and stuff like that is arriving at the net with a little more frequency perhaps, but a lot of the teams we play against in our division are heavy, heavy shot volume, heavy traffic teams so I don't think from a goaltending perspective the game changes a whole lot."
After clinching first place in the North Division on Saturday, the Leafs will be the heavy favourites in the opening round.
"There's always pressure and especially in the position us goalies chose to play," Campbell pointed out, "but I think pressure's fun, too. When the stakes are higher, that's what you play for so just looking forward to keeping this thing going."
Campbell is known for his positive persona. He's constantly tapping teammates on their shin pads after freezing the puck to show support.
"There's no bad days with Soup," said Spezza. "He's a gem to have around the room and puts everybody in a better mood."
"I've been so impressed," said winger Nick Foligno, who was acquired at the trade deadline. "He's probably one of the most caring guys I've met. [He] genuinely cares about people and that's such a great quality to have. I think that's important especially in the position that he holds as one of our goaltenders. You want to play for a guy like that."
After playing a full game in the American Hockey League on Saturday afternoon – his first full game since March 19 – Andersen said he was hoping to get into an NHL game before the regular season wraps up.
"Everyone knows the playoffs are right around the corner," Andersen told reporters. "If I can get some game action, it would be great."
Andersen also played half a game with the Marlies on Thursday. He stopped 46 of 52 shots in the two appearances during his long-term injury loan.
"He was very positive when I talked to him today," said Keefe. "Going down and playing at the AHL level was about building up his workload and his conditioning and things like that to look to prepare him to play at the NHL level. Now, he's got some practice time here to go through. He's still not cleared and available to play at the NHL level yet. We have a practice day today, another one tomorrow and we'll continue to look at and re-assess it based on his conversations with the medical team."
The Leafs play on Wednesday in Ottawa and on Friday in Winnipeg.
Toronto's tight salary cap situation may complicate matters.
"The salary cap stuff, of course, is a whole other beast that I don't know much about," Keefe acknowledged.
The team opted not to play defenceman Rasmus Sandin on Saturday in order to create some additional flexibility this week.
After missing the last two games with an upper-body injury, Foligno returned to practice on Monday.
"I'm feeling good," he said. "Great just to be back around the room. I mean, I haven't had that much time with them. It just feels normal when you're on the ice in that setting."
Foligno abruptly left a game on May 3 in Montreal and it was unclear when the injury was actually sustained.
"It's just something I've been dealing with a little bit and fired up on me at the wrong time, unfortunately, during a game," the 33-year-old explained.
Will he be able to play in one of the games this week?
"I hope so," Foligno said. "I still have to talk to the trainers and coaches, obviously, and see what the deal is with that, but ... I'm encouraged with how I'm feeling."
Forwards Zach Hyman and Riley Nash have been cleared for contact as they work their way back from knee injuries.
"Any time I talk to you guys it means I'm a step closer to returning so it's always good," Hyman said in his first media session since sustaining an MCL sprain. "I feel great. I feel really strong out there, but we're just taking our time. It's my first week back with some contact so just going to progress, but I feel great out there."
Hyman suffered the injury on a knee-on-knee hit by Alex Edler on April 18. The Canucks defenceman was ejected from the game and assessed a two-game suspension by the NHL's Department of Player Safety. Wayne Simmonds dropped the gloves with Edler when Vancouver visited Toronto on April 29.
What did Hyman think of the hit?
"I don't know, I mean, it was a while back now," he said. "I got around him and could be just a reaction play, but it doesn't really matter. All that matters is I'm close to returning and happy to be right around the corner."
The Leafs have gone 7-1-1 since Hyman got hurt. And the team also won both games without Foligno last week.
"Having depth in the playoffs is so crucial," noted Foligno, "and I look around this room and just seeing the names that are kind of throughout the lineup, it's cause for excitement a little bit. You got guys that are playing down the lineup, [who] could be playing up the lineup anywhere really and I think that makes you a real dangerous group. I know things happen in playoffs that you don't foresee.
"I remember playing against Tampa [in the 2019 playoffs], one of our best lines at the time was Riley Nash, Brandon Dubinsky and Boone Jenner, which was our fourth line. I remember when Riley Nash went down it really threw our team out of balance. We just didn't have the depth that Boston had when we played them next. I mean, it's so important to have that and I think we have a real good mix and that bodes well for us."
Keefe says he'll have a better idea about the status of the injured players following Tuesday's practice, which will include more contact drills. Monday's workout featured mostly skills and special teams work.
Defenceman Justin Holl missed Monday's practice with Keefe terming it a maintenance day.
The Leafs received their first COVID vaccine doses on Sunday.
"The arm's a little sore, but will definitely be fine and it's just nice," said Campbell. "We're just fortunate that the community is starting to get their shots and we were able to get one. It's important for the health of our team and everything, but obviously [we were] being respectful and waiting our turn. We're just really lucky to have the health-care workers that we have looking out for us."
William Nylander is the only Leafs player who missed games this season because he was on the COVID protocol list. He never tested positive, but came in contact with a potential positive case.
"It was a big priority for us coming into the season just being really strict with our protocols," said Spezza. "We knew it would be a challenge and we met it head on ... It's a great sign for our group. It shows the overall commitment to what we're playing for and playing for the Stanley Cup ... There's more and more shots readily available and that's a good thing. It shows signs of us healing as a community and us returning to normalcy."
Leafs units in five-on-three power-play drills:
First unit: Matthews, Nylander, Marner, Hyman, Tavares
Second unit: Rielly Sandin, Spezza, Simmonds, Thornton
Leafs units in six-on-five drills:
First unit: Rielly, Matthews, Marner, Tavares, Nylander, Hyman
Second unit: Sandin, Spezza, Kerfoot, Galchenyuk, Thornton, Simmonds