The Maple Leafs held an optional practice on Sunday at Ford Performance Centre.
For the first time since sustaining a leg injury on Jan. 24, Jack Campbell practiced with teammates on Sunday. However, it remains unclear when he will be ready to return to Toronto’s crease.
“I’m feeling really good,” the goalie said. “I’m just focusing on feeling a little bit better each day and getting the rust off and today was a great start. I had a blast out there with the fellas. It was a good first step and we’ll see what the trainers have for me tomorrow.”
Campbell got hurt late in a game at Calgary, but stayed in during the final few minutes to help preserve a win.
“I just wasn’t going to come out of that game,” he recalled. “We traveled the day before, no morning skate, three minutes left, I can handle an injury, per se. It’s not fun to do that, but asking Freddie [Andersen] to go in with three minutes left after sitting on the bench for three hours, it’s not a great thing to do so I definitely wasn’t coming out.”
Campbell is 2-0-0 on the year with a .923 save percentage.
“It’s a little frustrating,” the 29-year-old admitted. “I worked pretty hard this summer to make sure this didn’t happen two games in but, you know, you can’t really control it once it’s happened. I’ve learned a lot about my body since then and just working on some things in the gym. Thankfully, we have great people here to help us and it’s been great to see the boys winning so that’s been a big plus.”
Campbell refused to share specific details about the injury saying that was up to the coaches and management.
Andersen has started 11 of 12 games since Campbell got hurt posting eight wins and a .909 save percentage in that stretch.
“Man, he’s been tremendous,” Campbell gushed. “It’s not easy to ask a guy to play that many in a row and play to that level every game.”
Andersen’s ability to bounce back has been notable this season. Saturday night was the latest example as Andersen saw Montreal erase Toronto’s 2-0 lead in a matter of 33 seconds during a wild second period.
“He just looks calm, confident and his presence has been a big confidence builder for our team,” Campbell said. “It’s been awesome.”
How does Andersen work on the mental side of the game?
“It’s a long conversation we can have later, but I think just have someone you trust and work with outside of hockey,” he said. “On a personal level, just keep getting better at it. It’s not something you can ever perfect, but it’s something you can be as good at as possible. When you do make mistakes you’ll come back quicker and recover for the next play.”
Andersen leads the National Hockey League in games started (16).
After the Leafs squandered that 2-0 advantage on Saturday, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner teamed up to restore the lead. Zach Bogosian fed Matthews at the Montreal blue line with Toronto’s No. 1 centre then absorbing a hit from burly Canadiens defenceman Shea Weber to spring Marner.
“Matts saw [Weber] coming there,” Marner said. “I was talking to him. It’s a great little area pass and I think that’s one of my first look-offs on a two-on-one, but lucky enough it worked out.”
Marner’s decision to make a play on his own rather than feed Travis Boyd was another sign of his growing confidence in his shot. Matthews’ decision to take a hit to make a play was further evidence of his high hockey IQ and desire to do what’s necessary to win.
“I want to score,” Matthews said after the game. “I want to produce and do those things, but I’ve been trying to do little things that help the team win and put the momentum back on our side too. It’s [about] more than scoring goals, but obviously that’s what I’m here to do and that’s what I want to do. But just playing that full 200-foot game and competing night in and night out, that’s really all I’ve been looking at, looking for myself to do.”
Matthews is doing that extremely well right now with linemate Joe Thornton even suggesting he deserves to be up for the Selke Trophy along with the Hart Trophy.
“I’m just so impressed with his demeanour,” said Campbell. “He’s obviously a superstar and does everything incredible, but he also puts the work in, things not everybody sees. He comes in every day and he has his own stuff that he’s got going on. He puts himself in position to go out and dominate and that’s what he’s been doing. Obviously, you got to give credit to the boys and I’m sure he’d be the first one to give credit to his linemates, but watching him at this level is special and [we’re] not taking it for granted.”
Matthews has a remarkable 18 goals in 18 games this season and has only been held without a point once. It’s hard to put into words what he’s doing.
“He’s playing at a different level right now,” forward Alex Kerfoot observed. “It seems like he’s playing a different game than most guys out there. I don’t have any more adjectives other than what you guys have been using.”
“Get him the puck,” Marner said. “The guy’s on fire now. When our line comes out of our zone with the puck in our hands, we’re pretty confident we can do some pretty good things in the offensive zone.”
Marner is second in the NHL with 30 points while leading all forwards in average ice time (22 minutes and 40 seconds).
“Auston is setting new standards it seems every day for himself and thus our team as he’s carrying us to great things,” said coach Sheldon Keefe, “but I think it’s also important that we recognize the play of Mitch Marner here and how he’s really teamed up with Auston and they’re pushing each other to new heights. It’s been fun to watch that.”
The Leafs will be facing a desperate team on Monday night as the Calgary Flames arrive in Toronto having lost three straight including a 7-1 drubbing at the hands of the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday night.
“They’ve got the best player,” Matthew Tkachuk said of the Leafs, “the guy who’s playing the best in the league right now on their team. Similar to what we’ve seen the past two games here against [Connor] McDavid, a big test. Big test and we’re really going to see what we got these next two games.”
The Leafs swept two close games in Calgary in January with Tkachuk featuring prominently in both encounters. In the first game, he fell on Campbell late in the third period when the Leafs goalie was already ailing with the leg injury. After Toronto won the next game, Jake Muzzin flipped the puck at Tkachuk right after the buzzer sounded sending the Flames winger into a rage.
“We’re playing arguably the best team in the league these next two games,” Tkachuk said after Saturday’s loss. “They’re going to be intense games because they came into our rink and took it to us two games. It’s our turn to do a little payback here.”
“We are a whole lot better than that.”
Mark Giordano and Matthew Tkachuk look back on the setback to the Oilers. pic.twitter.com/panYN8Y5Ps
— Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) February 21, 2021
Calgary-born winger William Nylander didn’t see the ice for the last eight minutes and 45 seconds of Saturday’s game.
“Both [Saturday] and last game he’s had a lot of really good stretches where he’s got good legs and he looks real dangerous like he’s ready to break out,” Keefe said. “I didn’t like some of the things [Saturday] once we got the lead. As a team, I didn’t think we did great things in the second period, but in the third period we really got it going the way we wanted to and I didn’t think Willy matched that.”
After Columbus coach John Tortorella benched star Patrik Laine earlier this month, Keefe was asked by TSN about his philosophy when it comes to in-game discipline.
“Everything is situational,” Keefe said. “It’s usually an accumulation of things. You don’t overact to one incident or one different thing. For me, it’s usually the end of a long line of events that have occurred with a lot of communication and discussion. It’s not something I resort to all that often.”
Nylander has failed to produce a point in seven of the last eight games. Keefe attempted to generate a spark in Thursday’s blow-out win over the Senators by giving Nylander shifts with Matthews in the third period while John Tavares got to ride shotgun with Marner.
In the last two games, Tavares and Nylander have been joined on their line by Kerfoot.
“We can still get better,” Kerfoot said on Saturday night. “We’ve had some O-zone sequences, but we gave up a few too many odd-man rushes against and we’ve got to tighten that up. Those two guys are great players and it’s a lot of fun when I’m able to go out there play with them. I just try to bring a little bit of energy, bring my speed, get in on the forecheck and retrieve some pucks.”
The line got on the board Saturday after Nylander was benched. Jason Spezza took Nylander’s spot for a shift and set up Kerfoot during a two-on-one rush.
Kerfoot took that spot on the second line when Zach Hyman missed Thursday’s game due to injury. The gritty winger returned to action on Saturday, but slotted in on the third line with Pierre Engvall and Ilya Mikheyev.
“He’s far from 100 per cent here,” Keefe acknowledged, “but getting a game off, it seemed like he had a little extra legs, especially in that third period. He was putting on a clinic with how he was on the puck.”
Hyman sustained the initial injury after blocking a shot off his foot in Wednesday’s game against Ottawa. He blocked another shot off the foot in the second period on Saturday.
Even with Hyman hobbled, Keefe was pleased with how the third unit meshed.
“That line was on the offensive side of the red line most of the game,” the coach observed. “Those three guys didn’t seem like a lot of fun for Montreal.”
Alex Galchenyuk addressed the media for the first time since being traded from Ottawa to Carolina and then Toronto during a 48-hour stretch last weekend.
“It was a pretty wild couple of days,” he said. “So, it was definitely a big weekend. And I turned 27 too, so a big couple days.”
We’ve acquired Alex Galchenyuk from Carolina in exchange for Egor Korshkov and David Warsofsky. #LeafsForever
Details: https://t.co/SZX639nsNG pic.twitter.com/P8uMQ5wDQ1
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) February 15, 2021
Galchenyuk, the third overall pick in the 2012 NHL draft, has suited up for five different teams during the last three years.
“I’m not going to sit here and talk a lot about what went right and what went wrong,” he said. “We can sit here and talk all day about my career and the turns, but that’s not where my head is. My head is here, and I’m really excited to be here.”
What’s his mindset now?
“Just be fully me and, you know, deserve the opportunity,” he said. “And then stick with it. Keep working. Keep attacking. Keep playing aggressive and keep going out there and making plays. That’s my game. And compete. That’s the biggest thing.”
Tuesday will be Galchenyuk’s first full practice with the Leafs.
TSN’s Kristen Shilton has more on Galchenyuk’s outlook here
The Leafs held a practice designed for players who didn’t suit up in Montreal, but Spezza never seems to miss a chance to hit the ice. The 37-year-old snuck on for a quick workout only hours after landing back home. The others on the ice on Sunday were Galchenyuk, Nic Petan, Alexander Barabanov, Scott Sabourin, Mikko Lehtonen and Campbell.