As questions hover over Leafs fold, Campbell has golden opportunity

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As questions hover over Leafs fold, Campbell has golden opportunity


TORONTO – It says a lot about the unexpected turn the Toronto Maple Leafs have taken in the season, that both of these statements may be true:
1. Jack Campbell will make his second start in 53 days when the Leafs finish back-to-back games against the Calgary Flames on Saturday night.

2. Jack Campbell can start to take control of his team’s crease if he does well.

Losses in six of the last seven games cannot be placed exclusively at the feet of Frederik Andersen, nor even Friday’s 4-3 loss in an 18-stroke night for Calgary. But they have shaken confidence in the once unassailable No.1 and that makes Campbell’s opportunity a golden opportunity with his side desperately in need of a win.

“I expect him to fight like he did,” said Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe. “I know he played really well for us so he’s a guy who comes in with a ton of confidence.”

Where Campbell is in health is an open question. He was on the daily for nearly three weeks after completing a 30-save shutout in Edmonton on February 27 that followed a month-long absence recovering from a left leg injury.

That’s not how the 29-year-old imagined it to be after an intense offseason, but he still found his way to the door he had been trying to bring down for over a decade.

The Leafs were in control of the North Division until they stopped making enough saves. Now Campbell has a turn. They’ve been the best team on the wrong side of a result too many times over the past few weeks, and rocked the ice pretty heavily on Friday night.

They had their highest percentage of scoring chances (76.3) all season, their second best percentage of attempted shots (65) and their fourth best percentage of expected goals (68.1). They barely gave up on something quality, but saw a few unfavorable rebounds make a difference.

“There wasn’t a lot going on,” Andersen said. “Three of the goals were obviously for traffic and something that I probably have to watch and see what I did differently to try to fight and find those pucks faster.

Keefe added, “I don’t know how many shots we gave up, but not a lot. We haven’t given up on a lot of chances at all.

At 19-10-2, the Leafs are still in first place. Keefe rightly pointed out that a victory would ease the growing tension.

But they’ve also undoubtedly reached a point where loyalty is of little consequence – with Andersen in a year on contract and stumbling with a savings percentage of .900, having posted a career worst, 909 a year ago. year.

It’s no small feat that Leafs management gave a lot of thought to bringing in a replacement in the fall before deciding to stick with Andersen. There’s not much reason to believe GM Kyle Dubas will attempt to revisit this research before the April 12 trade deadline.

The short-term answer may be Campbell, who is 6-2-1 in limited action with the Leafs and a perfect 3-0 with .951 save percentage in his games this season. At a minimum, he should be able to spell Andersen for more rest during a period he admitted to playing on a minor injury.

The man known as Fredzilla is fighting right now.

“I know I have the ability to be a great goalie in this league and help the team win a ton of hockey games,” Andersen said this week. “So I think it’s just a matter of getting that confidence back. And I know it’s right there. There are just a few things that I need to keep working on and finding.

“I think I’ll be right there and do a good stretch again. The hard part is staying patient and continuing to work on the day to day things that will allow me to be successful there. ”

It didn’t work out against Calgary, with Matthew Tkachuk sifting through the game’s first shot in traffic and having him peek through Travis Dermott’s stick. The Leafs came out of a 3-1 hole to even things out, then Mark Giordano got a rebound on a point shot for the eventual winner.

Keeping a goal can be a very subjective position. You won’t find a unanimous opinion on what shooting should and shouldn’t be stopped. But there is a question hanging over Leafs territory because there are too many of them.

“Yeah it’s difficult [mentally] when a night like tonight when everything seems to find a way to work its way through traffic, ”said Andersen. “I know personally that I haven’t lost my ability to play well and the same goes for our team.

“I think we want to get out of this little crisis here and start winning hockey games.

Anyone who is in the net when those wins come will almost certainly stay there.

And on Saturday night, Andersen will watch from the end of the bench while Campbell has his chance.

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