Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Garret Sparks has been a pleasant surprise for the team over the last week or so. But the 22-year-old’s run with the Maple Leafs is coming to an end, despite not looking the least bit out of place in the NHL.
Thanks to a scheduling anomaly, the Maple Leafs don’t play again until next Tuesday. By then James Reimer should be fully healed from a lower-body injury, and Jonathan Bernier’s conditioning stint in the AHL will be over.
Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock has liked what he’s seen from Sparks, saying he has “a certain swagger about him.” But he still is almost certainly headed back to the AHL with the first-place Marlies. It was a good ride while it lasted.
Sparks made an immediate impact, and headlines, when he shut out the Edmonton Oilers in his NHL debut, the first Maple Leafs goalie to ever accomplish that feat. Then he won over even more fans thanks to an emotional postgame interview. In four games, Sparks went 3-1 with a 2.21 goals-against average and .921 save percentage.
Few of his saves over those four games were better than the one he made on Lee Stempniak in a shootout on Tuesday night.
That is one of the better shootout saves you’ll ever see. Still, it won’t be enough to keep him in the NHL, for now at least. There are plenty of questions and rumors swirling around the Maple Leafs and their goaltending situation. Babcock thinks Sparks can learn from his time in the show and continue to improve.
“When you earn confidence in yourself you tend to dig in harder,” Babcock said. “When you feel good about yourself you work that much harder. . . .He has a chance to be a real nice goalie.
“He’s come a long way, he’s got a long way to go. He must have the skill set or this wouldn’t be happening.”