Slowly but surely, the worst fears of Toronto Maple Leafs fans are being realized: the goaltending tandem of starter Jack Campbell and backup Petr Mrazek are not getting the job done, and that’s reflected in the Leafs’ current losing skid.
To be sure, consistently solid netminding is not the only thing that Toronto isn’t getting the moment, but nothing sticks out like a sore thumb quite like goalies who are struggling, and a recent move by Leafs GM Kyle Dubas – acquiring journeyman goalie Carter Hutton from Arizona Monday for future considerations – shows the Buds are concerned about their depth at the position.
Since Dec. 1, the Leafs are 30th in the NHL in 5-on-5 save percentage. Clearly, Campbell has lost some of his mojo, and it’s no coincidence Toronto has dropped five of its past seven games. The Leafs aren’t lacking for offense – they’re tied for fourth in the league in goals-for per game, with an average of 3.54. But stars such as Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander can’t be asked to drum up four or five goals per game. Yet that’s the reality in this three-game skid: Campbell and Mrazek combined to allow 15 goals - a five-goal-per-game average. If Toronto is going to contend for home-ice advantage in the playoffs, that simply cannot continue.
But what else do you do if you’re Dubas? The Hutton trade shows Leafs brass don’t see American League Toronto Marlies goalie Michael Hutchinson as an answer to the goaltending problem, and Mrazek’s reputation as a back stopper who struggles to stay healthy has been underscored in this, his first season as a Leaf. Mrazek’s numbers – he’s been limited to only 10 games, and has posted a bloated .890 save percentage and 3.16 goals-against average – do not inspire confidence.
It has to be mentioned that the Leafs haven’t helped out their goalies very much, if at all, in this current swoon. Top blueline pairing Morgan Rielly and T.J. Brodie have done their part, but veteran D-man Jake Muzzin hasn’t looked right/comfortable/healthy all season long, and he’s now in concussion protocol. Meanwhile, Justin Holl has been a serious letdown (and was healthy scratched in the Buds’ 4-3 overtime loss to Columbus Tuesday). Rasmus Sandin is a keeper, but fellow youngster Timothy Lilegren has been inconsistent, and new acquisition Ilya Lyusbushkin did not have his best game in his Leafs debut Tuesday. When half of your six-man defense corps is not performing up to expectations, it’s no wonder it shows up on the scoreboard and in the numbers of the men between the pipes.
The Leafs need more defensive help from their forwards as well, but there isn’t likely to be a huge swing in their fortunes via the trade front. We all know Dubas has only approximately $1 million in salary cap space, and that likely won’t be enough to acquire an available D-man like Seattle Kraken captain (and soon-to-be unrestricted free agent) Mark Giordano. This isn’t to say Dubas will be completely incapable of swinging a deal for an experienced hand on ‘D’, but none of his colleagues will be doing him any favors. They can see Toronto’s problems as well as the rest of us, and they’ll be driving a hard bargain to give up a capable defender.
All of which begs the question – are the Leafs bound to continue to suffer in their own zone? It appears that way, absent some out-of-the-blue move. Toronto’s management always keeps its cards close to the vest, but its predicament is clear. Something has to change, and change before the March 21 NHL trade deadline.
Some will say the Leafs need to stand behind Campbell as he fights to regain his edge, just the way they stood behind him when he was tearing up the league earlier this season. There may be something to that approach, but make no mistake – the pressure on Toronto’s goalies is only going to ratchet up from here. If they don’t rebound and give the Leafs a chance to win every night, the doom-and-gloom factor very well could eat them up.