Maple Leafs’ Garret Sparks looking to rediscover technique, confidence

Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock explains the team’s decision for Garret Sparks’ 10-day hiatus to get his game back, and why one game before the start of the playoffs.

Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock announced that backup Garret Sparks will be out of the lineup for 10 days to rediscover his technique and confidence by working with goalie coaches Steve Briere and Jon Elkin.

Michael Hutchinson, who was recalled from the AHL earlier on Friday, will back up Frederik Andersen for the Maple Leafs season finale in Montreal Saturday, and will be on the bench when the Maple Leafs begin their playoff series with the Boston Bruins.

“We need him to get (his game) back, he needs to get it back, and so it’s really important that we as an organization help him out,” Babcock said.

Sparks, 25, has struggled in his first season as the full-time backup in Toronto. In 20 games, 17 of them starts, he has an 8-9-1 record with a 3.15 goals-against average and .902 save percentage.

Those struggles have been amplified in recent weeks with Sparks only recording one win in his last six starts dating back to Feb. 10.

“I’ll be ready next year. I’ll be ready if anything happens,” Sparks said after his last start, a 4-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday. “This year isn’t over for me. I’m still going to be a big part of this team going down the stretch, and I’ll push guys every day to be better and be a good teammate.

“That’s all you can do.”

Sparks won the backup role over veterans Curtis McElhinney and Calvin Pickard out of training camp, in part because of his strong performance in the AHL the season before. In 2017-18, Sparks backstopped the Marlies to an AHL championship and was named AHL goalie of the year after posting a 31-9-1 record with a 1.79 goals-against average and .936 save percentage.

Hutchinson, 29, was acquired in a trade from the Florida Panthers to make some starts at a time when both Andersen and Sparks were injured. In five games for the Leafs, he has a 2-3-0 record with a 2.64 goals-against average and .914 save percentage, while in 23 games with the Marlies he has a 14-5-1 record with a 2.70 goals-against average and .910 save percentage.

“I don’t think we want to get ahead of ourselves. I’ve been with a lot of goalies over the years… and there’s times things don’t go as good,” Babcock said. “He won a Calder Cup last year for the organization, so I think it’s important we treat him right help him get his game to a level it should be at.”

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