So here’s the situation for the Toronto Maple Leafs this weekend:
- Starting goalie Frederik Andersen will not play on Friday or Saturday as he continues to deal with a neck injury. He is skating, he is probably not far away from returning, but he is not going to be in the lineup for their games against Anaheim (Friday) or Montreal (Saturday).
- After losing back-to-back games to Florida and New York to temporarily fall out of a playoff spot there’s a sense of panic oozing out of Toronto. Even more than there usually is after a loss. It is getting intense up there, folks.
- New backup goalie Jack Campbell, acquired from the Los Angeles Kings almost immediately after the Maple Leafs’ loss in New York on Wednesday, is going to start on Friday, and potentially Saturday as well, as the team desperately tries to find a goalie other than Andersen that can make a save for them.
To say there is already a ton of pressure on Campbell is a definite understatement.
His acquisition from the Kings (along with Kyle Clifford in exchange for Trevor Moore and some draft picks) is already getting more fanfare than your typical backup goalie move because of the team and city he is going to and the situation it is in.
He is not just the new backup goalie.
He is being talked about in the context of potentially having to save their season.
It is at that point that we should point out that while Campbell is a former first-round pick, he is still 28 years old and has only played in 58 NHL games. And never in a situation where he’s been expected to contribute this much to a team with such high expectations. None of this is to say he can not contribute and help. But man, talk about getting thrown right into the deep end of the pool.
The thing is, there is not much hyperbole with anything being said about his new role with the Maple Leafs.
They desperately need him to be good.
Not only as a fill-in for Andersen while he remains out of the lineup in the short-term, but to simply give Andersen an occasional break down the stretch. The Maple Leafs have leaned heavily on Andersen in his three years with the team not only in terms of his workload, but with the way they have played in front of him defensively. They have pretty much ground him down into dust each season by playing him 60-plus games and forcing him to mask their flaws defensively.
By the time the playoffs roll around he’s faced one of the heaviest workloads in the league. Not exactly an ideal situation for a goalie.
At this point there’s little chance of the Maple Leafs dramatically changing their style of play, especially given their roster (nor should they, quite honestly — this is almost how they have to play). But they do need another goalie they can count on to at least give them a chance when Andersen is not available (or needs a night off).
The Maple Leafs have four sets of back-to-backs remaining and multiple stretches where they play as many as four games in six days. Given how tight the playoff race is and how they are pretty much a 50-50 shot to get in at that point, having two goalies they can rely on is a must. It is also something they have simply not had the past two seasons.
Going back to the start of last season the Maple Leafs are 14-23-2 when Andersen does not play, while their backup goalies have managed only an .896 save percentage. That includes Michael Hutchinson‘s performance this season that has been among the worst of any goaltender in the league.
Now it’s Campbell’s turn to try to fill that spot.
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.