TORONTO – The struggling Toronto Maple Leafs are turning to their third goalie and a pair of rookies in an effort to get a victory.
Joey MacDonald will get the start in Tuesday’s game against the Colorado Avalanche and he’ll be joined in the Leafs lineup by young forwards Viktor Stalberg and Tyler Bozak.
The moves are part of a shakeup that will see coach Ron Wilson scratch veteran forwards Niklas Hagman and Matt Stajan. Goalie Vesa Toskala, who allowed seven goals in a loss to the New York Rangers on Monday, underwent an MRI on Tuesday and will also sit out, getting replaced on the bench by emergency AHL callup James Reimer.
Wilson wasn’t going to announce that he was scratching Hagman and Stajan after Tuesday’s morning skate until he was surprised with a question about it.
“Who told you I was sitting them?” he responded.
The coach then elaborated on the decision.
“We have to shake things up,” said Wilson. “We’ve got Stalberg coming back and we brought up Bozak. It can’t always be like the movie ‘Usual Suspects.’ It’s easy to pick on four or five guys, but we need more from everybody. Although they’ve scored some goals, their overall play hasn’t been what we need it to be.
“We’re giving opportunities to younger people. It’s as simple as that.”
Stalberg is returning after missing two games with a suspected concussion while Bozak will play his first career NHL game.
The Leafs started the season with an 0-4-1 record in large part because of their inability to keep the puck out of the net. Heading into Tuesday’s game, they were averaging a league-worst 4.8 goals against per game.
MacDonald is a journeyman goaltender who started the season in the AHL and has been serving as Toskala’s backup since last week, when Jonas Gustavsson went on injured reserve with a groin injury.
The 29-year-old had a good training camp with the Leafs and is confident he can help turn things around.
“We’ll get out of it,” said MacDonald, who played 49 games for the New York Islanders a year ago. “It’s going to take everybody.”
The Leafs don’t believe Toskala has suffered a serious injury, but wanted to exercise some caution. He took a big hit late in the second period of Monday’s game when Jason Blake inadvertently slammed Rangers captain Chris Drury into his goaltender.
That opened the door for Reimer, who was as surprised as anyone to find himself in an NHL dressing room. He was at the Marlies practice facility on Tuesday morning when the team’s equipment manager started packing up his gear and told him to head over to the Air Canada Centre.
The 21-year-old spent most of last season in the ECHL and thought it was a prank. When he realized it wasn’t, he needed to get directions to the arena.
“I just got my car and had no idea how to get downtown,” said Reimer.
The biggest surprise is the decision to sit Stajan and Hagman – both of whom have spent the season on the top two lines.
Stajan has three goals in five games while Hagman has two goals and an assist. However, the only important stat so far is the fact the team hasn’t recorded a victory.
“It’s a winning business,” said Stajan. “If you’re not winning, you’re going to change things up and see if that will give your team a boost.”
Less than two weeks ago, the Leafs season started with plenty of optimism.
They put together a 6-3 record during the pre-season and appeared ready to take a step forward after four straight years out of the playoffs. Everything has turned sour pretty quickly.
“Obviously we had a pretty successful training camp and, yeah, you’re disappointed that we don’t have more points that we do,” said Wilson. “The last couple games, the games kind of slipped out of our hands at some point during the game. Some early, last night it was in the third period. We don’t seem to have much resilience.
“So I think right now getting some younger people in there that don’t carry a bunch of baggage around is the way to go.”