National Post (Latest Edition)
Leafs need some clarity between posts
Who’s going to carry team’s hopes in playoffs?
The record, and the way Jack Campbell played in winning 11 straight games to start this season, seemed almost too good to be true.
And now it appears as though it was.
Campbell’s last four starts in goal for the Leafs have been spotty — three straight losses and before that a fivegoal overtime win over the Ottawa Senators.
In the last four starts, he’s allowed 14 goals against, a good number of them stoppable, like the winning goal Bo Horvat scored in that dreadful defeat in Vancouver on Sunday night. In the first 10 wins, the Campbell streak was magic. He allowed just 16 goals against.
Those are unsustainable numbers.
The question now, with just 11 games left until playoffs, is where exactly are the Leafs in goal and how much of a complication is this for coach Sheldon Keefe? There is an old adage when it comes to quarterbacks that often applies to goaltenders. If you have two, you really don’t have one.
In the Leafs’ case, they have three, and in each case there is a reason for optimism, and reason for doubt. The doubt being apparent as the Leafs lineup took a significant blow Sunday night when the irreplaceable Zach Hyman was on the troubling end of a knee-on-knee from the normally reliable Alex Edler, who will miss two games due to suspension.
This is NHL justice at its least equitable: Edler is gone for two games. Hyman will miss two weeks, minimum. Maybe more with a damaged medial collateral ligament in his knee.
The Leafs would be wise to make certain he’s healthy and ready for the post-season.
There’s no point in bringing him back early. There’s only a point in bringing him back when he’s completely ready at full strength.
The complications for Keefe now are many, starting in goal. Right now, with three-straight losses, the net belongs to Campbell, backed up by David Rittich, with the injured Frederik Andersen now taking some practice time.
Andersen hasn’t played in a month. When last he played, he lost five of his previous six starts. His save percentage in March was a rather unacceptable .876. And when he’s ready to play the Leafs may not be able to afford to put him in the lineup because of salary cap complications. So in order to get Andersen ready for playoffs, they might need to convince him to play some games with the AHL Marlies. No one from the Leafs is saying at this point whether Andersen is open to some AHL rehabilitation, where he hasn’t been in seven years.
Rittich, by acclamation, could wind up as the goalie. Unless Campbell starts to play better or Andersen gets back to form quickly and looks to be playoff-ready. It will be something of a calculated guessing game down the stretch for Keefe, who has some challenging decisions to make in the coming days.
He won’t have Hyman in his lineup, his most indispensable grinding winger and he won’t have to decide where to put him. He will have Nick Foligno on Thursday night in Winnipeg, which is more important today than it was when the deal was made at the trade deadline.
Having Foligno in combination with Hyman on different lines is a great look for the Leafs. Having one without the other is building for some playoff comfort. Hyman will likely be back with four games to go in the season.
Then more decisions for Keefe — which winger plays on which line?
A few weeks ago, Keefe didn’t have Rittich as a possibility in goal or Foligno as a possibility on the wing or, need be, at centre. The trades made by GM Kyle Dubas at the NHL deadline seems more important today than they did yesterday.
“That was Kyle’s goal going in, to make our team better through increased depth,” said Keefe. “The reality is, sometimes you don’t
WE BELIEVE IN JACK ... AND HAVING INCREASED EXPECTATIONS ... HE’S EARNED THAT. NOW WE HAVE TO HELP HIM THROUGH THIS TO FIND THAT BALANCE.
know what you’re going to be up against. You need to have answers to questions and issues that come up.”
But first, some normalcy in net is needed. Rittich will likely start Tuesday night against the Canucks. Then Campbell after that. Not a lot of time to figure out who will play and under what circumstances.
“He (Campbell) set an NHL record,” said Keefe, “and any time you’re doing those things you’re probably playing at an unsustainable pace. You knew he wasn’t going to stay perfect. You’re wanting him to find his way somewhere in the middle.
“We believe in Jack ... and having increased expectations ... He’s earned that. Now we have to help him through this to find that balance that every goaltender is looking for.”
They have Campbell and some hope. They have Andersen and the belief he’s coming back. They have Rittich, just in case Campbell or Andersen fail.
The best coaches don’t decide on starting goaltenders. The goalies make those determinations by their play. There are 11 games to go before playoffs, three goalies to figure out, and not a lot of time for wrong answers.