A pattern has developed and it is one of concern for the Maple Leafs. From one week to the next, their goaltending issues supersede other topics of conversation.
Auston Matthews scored twice on Saturday night to overtake Edmonton’s Leon Draisiatl for the NHL lead.
Wayne Simmonds played in regular-season game No. 1,000 of his career. Nick Robertson posted his first regular-season goal. John Tavares got his first in 15 outings. But talk about those accomplishments is muted by yet more erratic performances in the net.
This time, Jack Campbell blew a 4-3 third-period lead in a 6-4 loss to the Vancouver Canucks at Scotiabank Arena. A couple of nights earlier, Petr Mrazek was porous in a 5-1 flattening by Buffalo. A few evenings before that Campbell got yanked after he nearly coughed up a 7-2 advantage over Detroit. The latter is such a good, hard-working and passionate guy, someone so easy to root for, that critics are hesitant to treat him harshly. The truth is that Campbell is in a prolonged slump and not just having an ugly game every now and again.
Something has happened to that fellow who carried his teammates on his shoulders over the first half of the season. He was so good he was selected for the all-star team. Now, he has allowed four goals or more in nine of his past 15 starts and at .915 he is tied for 18th in save percentage among the league’s goalies.
Perhaps he is just reverting to the norm but the difference is striking.
It would not be as worrisome if Mrazek had been better. He will take a 9-5 record and .890 save percentage into a start on Monday against the Blue Jackets in Columbus.
Toronto is still a very good 35-16-4 and in third place in the Atlantic Division behind Florida and Tampa Bay. But after giving up four winnable points, it is now just two ahead of fourth-place Boston.
This is not a good time for scuffling in the crease.
On Friday, general manager Kyle Dubas said the team is more interested in acquiring defensive help than another goalie before the March 21 trade deadline.
No doubt the Maple Leafs are lacking on defence, especially with Jake Muzzin out with his second concussion. On the other hand, their netminders are last in the NHL with an .876 save percentage since Jan. 9.
On Saturday, Campbell stopped 18 of 23 shots. He hadn’t played in a week since the near disaster against the Red Wings. The team wanted him to get a little rest and clear his head a bit but then he struggled again.
“I’ve been pretty hard on myself this year, and obviously it’s snowballing a little bit,” Campbell said. “I know I got better for the team. I promise I’ll get out of it and get on a roll again. I’ll get it back. Promise I will.”
Until then, there is a little bit of helplessness that is spilling out.
“There is nothing we can do for him at this point other than play better in front of him,” head coach Sheldon Keefe said. “Our focus has to be on helping him and Petr out as best as we can.”
Campbell will be back in the net on Tuesday when the Seattle Kraken visit Scotiabank Arena. Perhaps a win over an expansion team will boost his flagging confidence.
Arizona then comes to town on Thursday before the Maple Leafs play the Sabres on Sunday in the Heritage Classic in Hamilton.
Those are six more points that should be attainable and in the win column. If only it were that easy.
“We have to let Jack know how much confidence we have in him as a group,” Alexander Kerfoot, the Maple Leafs forward, said after practice on Sunday. “We know how good he has been all season long and we have his back.”
Kerfoot then reflected on how difficult it is to be a goalie at the NHL level.
“I can go through a game and make a bunch of mistakes and the majority of people wouldn’t even notice, whereas he makes one and all of a sudden it is the end of the world,” Kerfoot said. “At the position he plays, mistakes are just amplified.”
Matthews, who has now scored 39 goals in 52 games, said he felt that Campbell was a bit unlucky and the victim of bad bounces on Saturday.
“We are all supporting him,” Matthews said. “When a guy is going through a tough stretch everybody has to try to pick him up and help him out. I know he wants to play better for us but we also have to better in front of him.”