An­der­sen near­ing a re­turn as Maple Leafs pre­pare to host reel­ing Avalanche

Cape Breton Post - - SPORTS -

Mike Bab­cock has made a habit dur­ing re­cent me­dia avail­abil­i­ties of try­ing to head off ques­tions con­cern­ing the Maple Leafs’ goalie sit­u­a­tion be­fore re­porters even get a chance to ask.

While that was the case again Sun­day — Toronto’s head coach said he doesn’t know the iden­tity of his starter for Mon­day’s visit from the Colorado Avalanche — roll call at prac­tice and Fred­erik An­der­sen’s an­swers sug­gest the club is on the verge of get­ting its No. 1 net­min­der back in the crease.

Out since Dec. 28 with a groin in­jury be­fore get­ting cut down by a flu bug that forced him to miss Satur­day’s 3-2 home loss to the Bos­ton Bru­ins, An­der­sen was on the ice with team­mates and de­clared him­self fit if called upon.

“I def­i­nitely feel ready to go,’’ he said. “But we’ll see.’’

De­spite sit­ting out Toronto’s last seven games — in­clud­ing two where he dressed as the backup be­fore Christ­mas — An­der­sen still sits third in the NHL in wins (20), while his .923 save per­cent­age and 2.50 goals-against av­er­age puts him first and fifth, re­spec­tively, among goalies with at least 25 ap­pear­ances.

He said it’s been “ex­tremely hard’’ to be pa­tient as he’s worked to get back in the lineup.

“Es­pe­cially with the ex­tra flu go­ing around, that was very frus­trat­ing,’’ An­der­sen said. “It’s been a process that’s been new for me.’’

Leafs backup Gar­ret Sparks (con­cus­sion) was also at prac­tice and said he’s cleared med­i­cally to play.

That rel­e­gated Michael Hutchin­son, who is 2-3-0 with a .914 save per­cent­age and a 2.64 GAA in five emer­gency starts fol­low­ing a trade with the Flor­ida Pan­thers in late De­cem­ber, to a work­out with as­sis­tant coaches fol­low­ing Sun­day’s main ses­sion.

“I’d be good to have ev­ery­body back, but that’s all part of life,’’ Bab­cock said of An­der­sen and Sparks. “We’ve got to find a way to play bet­ter and win games no mat­ter who’s in net.’’

The Leafs did plenty of good things in the loss to the Bru­ins — a fourth de­feat in their last six — but were un­done by two gaffes from the No. 2 de­fence pair of Jake Gar­diner and Nikita Zait­sev late in the sec­ond pe­riod that flipped a 2-1 ad­van­tage to a 3-2 deficit.

“We played re­ally well,’’ Toronto cen­tre Aus­ton Matthews said. “But you make a cou­ple costly mis­takes and it ends up in the back of your net.’’

Matthews, who has just one goal in nine games, had a great op­por­tu­nity to tie things with four min­utes left against Bos­ton only to see the puck roll off his stick at the crit­i­cal mo­ment.

He’s not the only Toronto for­ward cur­rently in a funk. Wil­liam Ny­lan­der has one goal in 16 games since his con­tract im­passe ended at the be­gin­ning of last month, while Nazem Kadri has scored once in his last 17.

“It’s just the way it’s been go­ing as of late,’’ Matthews, who had a goal called back for off­side against the Nashville Preda­tors last Mon­day, said of his own strug­gles. “These last few games, es­pe­cially our line (with Kasperi Ka­pa­nen and An­dreas Johns­son), we’ve done a lot good things.

“It’s only a mat­ter of time for the puck to start go­ing in.’’

Now just two points up on Bos­ton for sec­ond in the At­lantic Divi­sion, Toronto (28-14-2) will look over and see a des­per­ate op­po­nent Mon­day.

The reel­ing Avalanche, who were tied for first in the Western Con­fer­ence just over a month ago, have lost nine of their last 10 games (1-7-2), and since a 5-2 vic­tory over Flor­ida on Dec. 6 are just 3-10-3 — the worst record in the NHL over that span.

Colorado (20-17-8) cur­rently oc­cu­pies the con­fer­ence’s sec­ond wild-card spot, but is also only three points up on the 10th-place Ed­mon­ton Oil­ers.

The all-star top line of Mikko Ran­ta­nen (sec­ond in league scor­ing with 68 points), Nathan MacKin­non (fifth, 66 points) and Gabriel Lan­deskog (18th, 51 points) has con­tin­ued to put up big num­bers, but the wins haven’t fol­lowed.

“We’re try­ing to stay pos­i­tive, but at the same time ev­ery­body knows that we need to be bet­ter,’’ Avalanche cen­tre Tyson Jost said after Sun­day’s op­tional skate at Toronto’s prac­tice fa­cil­ity. “We’ve been play­ing some good hockey (re­cently). We just need to clean up one or two things and we’re right there.

“There’s a sense of ur­gency, and so there should be.’’

And Bab­cock will be look­ing for the same level of in­ten­sity from his team, which has lost three of its last four at home and is just 13-9-1 at Sco­tia­bank Arena, no mat­ter who he taps on the shoul­der to start in goal.

“In the league, ev­ery day, I think you’re all pretty des­per­ate,’’ he said. “You know you need the points. You need that feel­ing — that feel­ing where you’re float­ing in­stead of grind­ing.

“You’ve got to earn it.’’

CP PHOTO

Toronto Maple Leafs goal­tender Fred­erik An­der­sen keeps his eyes on the puck as he makes a stop dur­ing third pe­riod NHL ac­tion against the Bos­ton Bru­ins in Toronto in 2018.

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