Maple Leafs should rest workhorse goalie Andersen

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Earlier this season, much of the discussion about the Edmonton Oilers’ struggles revolved around the possibility that Cam Talbot was worn out from 2016-17. At least when people weren’t making trade jokes.

There’s no denying that Talbot carried a heavy burden last season, starting a Brodeurian 73 regular-season games and then heading Edmonton’s playoff push.

One cannot help but wonder if the Toronto Maple Leafs are taking similar risks with their 28-year-old workhorse goalie Frederik Andersen. No goalie has faced more shots (3,923) and made more saves (3,605) than Andersen since he joined the Buds last season. In fact, it’s not particularly close, with Andersen leading Talbot and the rest of the pack by at least 200 shots faced/saves.

To his credit, Andersen’s passed his tests with flying colors, generating a .919 save percentage so far despite those heavy minutes.

That’s all a testament to Andersen, who seemed pretty happy with the idea of carrying such a burden last season. Still, Mike Babcock & Co. should think long and hard about giving Andersen more rest down the stretch, even if they might need to ward off the occasional rebuttal. Take, for instance, what Nazem Kadri told the Canadian Press about resting players about a year ago:

“Never. Never,” Kadri said when asked about the subject before adding a slight caveat. “Maybe if you had first locked into place by a mile and it was the last game of the year on the road or something — maybe you sit a guy out. But never for multiple games … If a healthy player is healthy he’s playing.”

Now, the Maple Leafs don’t have “first locked into place by a mile,” yet they seem more or less stapled to third in the Atlantic Division. With the Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins hammering out what could be a tight battle for the division crown, Toronto could make for a tough opponent if they bring younger and fresher legs into such a series.

As formidable as the Bruins and Lightning look, both teams are banged up. The B’s are playing it safe with Tuukka Rask, too:

The Maple Leafs are already taking a cautious approach with healing up Auston Matthews‘ shoulder injury, so why not play it safe with Andersen?

Beyond (ideally) reducing the odds of an injury, there are some other benefits to giving him a breather.

The Other Guys

Quietly, Curtis McElhinney has been fantastic as Andersen’s aging backup. The 34-year-old has 11 starts and 13 appearances, going 7-4-1 with a splendid .931 save percentage. He was pretty sturdy last season, too, generating a .917 save percentage between his time with Columbus and Toronto.

At minimum, it seems like McElhinney’s earned a few more looks, and the Maple Leafs would be wise to keep him sharp in case anything happens to Andersen.

Going further, the Maple Leafs also might want to take another glance or two at overqualified AHL goalie Calvin Pickard. The 25-year-old got a raw deal in being claimed off of waivers after getting lost in the shuffle with the Vegas Golden Knights, and if he’s sulking with the Toronto Marlies, he’s not exactly letting it affect his play. Pickard’s 17-8-0 with a .924 save percentage in the AHL this season.

With McElhinney signed through 2018-19 and Pickard set as a pending RFA, the Maple Leafs might have to make a choice regarding their backup situation soon. Giving one or both of them reps down the stretch might just bump up their trade value this summer, so there are benefits even beyond limiting Andersen’s fatigue.

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Now, this isn’t to say that Andersen should stick to the bench until April.

Goalies prefer to stay sharp, and considering the volume of shots the Maple Leafs often yield, he might feel like too much rest is like going cold turkey. There’s a balance to be struck here, and that may be the job of trainers, if not sports psychologists.

Still, the Maple Leafs lean a ton on Andersen, so they’d be wise to consider taking their feet off the pedal for a bit. At least until the real race begins in the playoffs.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.