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Should the Maple Leafs be Worried About Campbell's Recent Slump?

Jack Campbell has not been himself lately. Should the Maple Leafs be worried?
Jack Campbell

Jack Campbell was never going to be a .940 goaltender for an entire season. 

But these last few games? Yeah, they're a little more than your average regression. 

Campbell has undoubtedly earned himself a spot among the premier goaltenders in the NHL since arriving in Toronto in February of 2020, consistently turning pucks away at roughly a .920 clip in the parts of three seasons he's been a Maple Leaf. 

That level of production offers a buffer. It earns a player like Campbell a modicum of leeway in the face of some uncharacteristic stumbles. And, in the context of this season, Campbell's last few underwhelming starts really have been uncharacteristic. 

This is a guy who has arguably been his team's most valuable player this season -- with the Leafs almost certainly not vying for the Atlantic Division crown with the likes of the Panthers and Lightning without him. 

But with the margin for error so small, you can't ignore the rough patches, either.  

And Campbell is smack-dab in the middle of one right now. 

Ever since a blistering November that saw him post a .959 save percentage, Campbell has puttered along at a .892 clip for the following two months -- with January, in particular, seeing him dip to an .880. That number also happens to include Monday night's performance versus the New Jersey Devils, during which Campbell was pulled after allowing three goals on nine shots to close out a month to forget. 

These struggles could not have come at a worse time, either. 

After the All-Star Game, which Campbell will attend this year for the first time in his career, the Leafs are staring down the barrel of an 11-games-in-23-days stretch that will test their collective resolve and force both goaltenders to see plenty of ice. 

If Campbell simply needs some time to snap out of his slump, well, he doesn't have it. 

This is a crucial juncture in the Leafs' season. With a first-round series versus Boston or Tampa Bay practically inevitable at this point, the Leafs desperately need to secure home ice in order to stockpile every possible advantage to win. That security is within reach, however, with the team currently sitting just five points behind the Lightning for second in the division with four games in hand. 

Exiting this upcoming February gauntlet with a .600 winning percentage or better would do wonders for the Leafs' outlook from here on out. And to do that, they'll need their starter to be firing on all cylinders. 

And despite how much he'll try to convince you otherwise, Campbell's recent dip isn't entirely on his shoulders.  

"Jack hasn't played to the same level that he's established for himself," explained Sheldon Keefe on Monday following the Leafs' latest comeback win. 

"But our team has not played the same in front of him. And that's not nearly good enough." 

Keefe is certainly right about that. 

The Leafs have developed a nasty little habit since the December COVID stoppage halted their season, that being beginning games in the worst manner possible before roaring back to victory somewhere around the second period. 

Monday's tilt against the Devils was a textbook example. The Leafs seemed barely conscious when the puck dropped yet again, allowing an odd-man rush less than a minute into the game that left Campbell to fend for himself. Bing, bang, boom: 1-0 New Jersey. 

A case could be made that Campbell should have stopped at least one of those three tallies. But he wasn't exactly in a position to succeed, either. With Jake Muzzin's injury upsetting the blueline's chemistry and forcing rookie Timothy Liljegren to play over his head, Toronto's defense has been abysmal for the better part of the past month. And when you're not even letting your own goaltender settle into games, it shouldn't be too surprising when his numbers dip. 

The good news is that Campbell isn't alone. 

The Leafs signed Petr Mrazek for nearly $4 million per season for a reason, after all. He's there to not only support Campbell through the rigors of a full NHL season, but to also challenge him for the starter's job. 

That certainly wasn't the case back in October and November when Mrazek couldn't stay healthy and Campbell was singlehandedly preventing a Michael Hutchinson-Joseph Woll tandem from becoming reality. 

But Mrazek is back now. And his return will allow Campbell to take the odd game off in a hectic February while Mrazek plays closer to the level the Leafs thought they were getting when they signed him. 

Remember, the Leafs didn't enter the season with Campbell as their undisputed starter. He just happened to grab that job and run with it. But with Mrazek now finally an option, the Leafs can use their goaltenders over this upcoming stretch like they originally intended to: as a tandem. 

And suddenly, the pressure for Campbell to improve his Vezina case each and every night lessens a bit. Perhaps, just enough to return him to his prior form. 

Either way, buckle up. 

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