It hasn’t been easy, or timely, but life ain’t bad at all with Jack Campbell in net.
The Toronto Maple Leafs’ new backup netminder helped put another two points in the bank Tuesday night, making 35 saves in a 3-2 overtime victory over the Arizona Coyotes. It marked the third start (and third overtime) in five nights for the former Los Angeles King, who has secured five of a possible six points for the Maple Leafs since arriving in Toronto. That’s more than halfway to the total that Michael Hutchinson was able to supply in eight fewer starts.
Kasperi Kapanen scored the overtime winner for Toronto, and it was very much a goal that he needed after a near-six-week outage, while Zach Hyman provided both regulation markers, creeping into the top 25 in the NHL in terms of goals per game.
The Maple Leafs will host the Dallas Stars on Thursday night, and it’s possible that Frederik Andersen will make his return then.
Until then, three points:
Big ‘ol letdown
It was supposed to be incredibly fun. It was not.
Sheldon Keefe had Leafs fans foaming at the mouth when William Nylander flanked Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner for line rushes in warmups. It took years and the dismissal of the richest coach in league history for Matthews and Marner to finally have the chance to share the ice for a regular shift, so adding the second-most talented winger on the roster to the still-fresh, already-potent combination provided this game with a little extra juice before puck drop.
That excitement, though, quickly petered out.
The $29-million unit was largely ineffectual, combining for two total shots at five-on-five on just 10 attempts. They logged almost 15 low-event minutes under that even-strength condition, being out-shot 9-6 by the Coyotes while producing a measly 0.35 expected goals.
Keefe reserved the right to criticize their collective performance, giving a pass to Nylander in particular. He said the Swede simply wasn’t right after being zapped of both his energy and routine by missing the two previous games with an illness.
If you had high hopes, don’t fret; it is likely that we will see the experiment again soon. Keefe said the chemistry Hyman, John Tavares and Alexander Kerfoot have formed was much the reason as anything for loading up the top line.
And they were by far the best trio again for the Leafs.
Riding that adrenaline
You only get one chance to earn a first impression, but so far Jack Campbell has had three.
There is a certain uniqueness beyond the fact that Campbell could very well be saving the season of the most scrutinized and religiously-followed hockey team in the world. It’s merely a simple fact that most goaltenders with a backup designation don’t receive the sort of opportunity and platform that Campbell is flourishing in now.
This sudden blast of starts for a franchise and city, and the success he’s had in those appearances, is a considerable benefit to the player and team — now and into the future.
And in riding that same initial adrenaline, perhaps it’s accelerating the process of building a truly meaningful partnership.
“It’s allowing him to get some momentum here, and get comfortable here,” Keefe said, explaining that players in Campbell’s position aren’t normally so quickly relied on.
“It’s also been a chance to build confidence (in him). He’s done his job here for us, that’s good to see. You match that with the energy and positivity he brings, the work ethic every day. It’s been really good for our group.”
Keefe added: “We have some confidence in Campbell, and he’s earned that.”
With Frederik Andersen’s injury status remaining a mystery, Campbell may have more opportunities to embed himself in this season, and with this organization, before he can wrap his head around the incredible start to his tenure.
Fair or not, there was plenty of talk surrounding Tyson Barrie’s shot selection and overall awareness after his ill-advised decision to let one rip late in an overtime shift Saturday in Montreal.
Tonight he underscored that fact that he should never settle.
In the first period, we saw the sort of offensive-zone activation Leafs fans and management were probably expecting to see a little more of this season from the former Av. Without hesitation after holding the line on a failed clearance from Alex Goligoski after the Leafs fell behind 1-0, Barrie pushes the puck back up the ice, forcing the defenders back on their heels. Then after dishing the puck over to Alex Kerfoot, he spreads the ice and makes himself a target for the return feed in a vastly improved shooting position. Receiving the pass almost immediately in return, Barrie pounds a shot toward the net, and for Hyman to deflect by Adin Hill to tie the game.
Barrie with a blast from the point. And as expected, it results in a goal.— The Leafs Nation (@TLNdc) February 12, 2020
Zach Hyman gets credited with it. Tie game. pic.twitter.com/sngJaSck7C
It’s easy to say it was a better shot from Barrie simply due to the result, but it was a far superior shot compared to many of the muffins he sends toward goal on the power play — and of course that harmless shot last Saturday in overtime — because he made so much more difficult on the goaltender.
By improving his position on the ice in terms of both angle and proximity, Barrie prevented Hill from ever being set, while also allowing the traffic to form in front.
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