TORONTO – Six long days and 19 allowed goals ago, Kyle Dubas looked into the cameras and gave his acquired goaltending tandem a firm stamp of approval.
Sure, the trade deadline is just around the corner. OK, so both Toronto Maple Leafs goalies can’t seem to last 60 minutes without pulling four pucks out of the back of their net.
“I'm not concerned about either one of them,” Dubas said last Friday. He sounded convinced if not convincing. “They both have shown themselves to be good goalies — and they will be.”
They might be, sure. Eventually. Maybe.
But neither has been good — or even a threat to league average — for more than two months running.
Naturally, coach Sheldon Keefe said the net was Petr Mrazek’s for the foreseeable future.
Hey, that’s why the organization turned the page on Frederik Andersen in the off-season and committed more term and a pretty penny to Mrazek.
“This most certainly will be an opportunity for Petr to run with it here,” Keefe proclaimed.
Mrazek punted his opportunity on first down Thursday, taking a seat on the bench for a dramatic 5-4overtime loss to the Arizona Coyotes — a roster designed for high lottery odds and a roster that swept its season series against the Leafs 2-0 solely because it received adequate goaltending.
Mrazek surrendered four goals on the Coyotes’ first 12 shots before getting the hook and burying his squad into a 4-1 hole.
“To be honest, I wanted to do it after two,” Keefe said. Yikes. “It’s hard. It’s hard mentally on the guys.”
Mrazek would admit it wasn’t his night after he gave up a juicy rebound to Alex Galchenyuk two minutes in.
“That’s as tough a goal as we’ve given up all season to start a game,” Keefe said. “That stuff takes the wind out of the sails, for sure.”
Mrazek agreed: “That was an easy first save.”
Even more baffling was seeing Jakob Chychrun’s off-speed whiff squeak through as Mrazek overplayed a 2-on-1 in which Phil Kessel was looking pass all the way:
Two goals later, prospect Erik Källgren went from an emergency call-up for morning skate to making his NHL debut mid-game. Keefe had no other choice. He and his players had lost confidence in their GM’s $11.4-million investment.
“Try to keep the head clear and just go out there and just embrace the moment,” Källgren said. “It’s a lot to take in. Obviously you dreamt about playing in this league since you were a kid. Today, it happened for me. Definitely a night I’ll remember.”
Ironically, Källgren was drafted by Arizona back in 2015. His entry-level contract was mutually terminated with the Coyotes in 2019, and the Leafs — notoriously light when it comes to a goaltending pipeline — scooped him up as a free agent.
“Toronto is a hockey town, and I’ve heard a lot about it. We’ve had a couple big Swedes play here,” said Källgren, who was convinced to sign after a positive conversation with Dubas. “It was a no-brainer when I got the chance.”
The rookie held fort and earned a standings point, kicking out 10 saves while the Leafs’ relentless forwards mounted yet another comeback, scoring three unanswered in the third period from Alexander Kerfoot, Auston Matthews, and William Nylander. (The latter woke up after a brief demotion to the fourth line.)
“Calm, cool, collected. Big saves. For a guy making his first start under those circumstances with no heads up, I thought he was excellent,” Keefe raved of Källgren. “Fans were terrific. I loved how they welcomed him into the game.”
Chychrun scored a controversial OT winner after missed penalty calls on John Tavares and Matthews.
For the Leafs, their dramatic comeback comes parcelled with an ominous undercurrent.
Come May, it won’t matter much if Toronto’s skaters gain a decided edge in chances and zone time and all the charts and graphs the world’s most advanced analytics program can spit out.
Even with an AM34 cheat code upfront, Toronto will not survive a seven-game series with Commodore 64 goaltending.
The question for Dubas is as simple as it is complicated: Is Dubas concerned enough to make a move? Or does he survey a thin goaltending trade market, cross his fingers, and bet on a refreshed Campbell. Or pray Källgren can be some sort of Binnington-esque gem culled from the minors?
The trade deadline is 10 days away.
The question for Keefe is more immediate: How do you not start Källgren in Sunday’s outdoor game?
“We’ll see what happens,” Källgren said. “I just try to work hard. That’s about it. I guess I’ve done something right.”
Fox’s Fast 5
• Jakob Chychrun, whose name has been circulating the rumour mill for months, loves coming back to this city. The defenceman played minor midget for the GTHL’s Toronto Junior Canadiens and still has some ties here.
“Toronto is the mecca, so it’s always great to be here,” Chychrun says. “It’s pretty cool being here, just seeing how big the game is, how passionate everybody is. So, it’s definitely fun coming here."
• Alex Galchenyuk says although last summer’s playoff loss to Montreal was devastating, the possibility of a Maple Leafs return was presented itself in free agency. “In the end, I went where I felt comfortable,” he says.
The winger/centre signed a one-year deal for the league minimum in Arizona. He matched last season’s goal (five) total and surpassed last season’s point total (13) Thursday with a goal and an assist in his return.
• Despite being a healthy scratch since Jan. 19, Kyle Clifford inked a two-year extension ($762,500 AAV) with the Leafs Wednesday. Keefe has Clifford take warmups with the group and likens his positive presence in the room to that of the injured Jake Muzzin.
“His character is top notch; his experience can't be questioned,” Keefe says. “The new deal, it makes a lot of sense to have him around and in the mix. He's hungry to play, and I'm aware that.”
With left wing Nick Robertson called up, the organization is simply telling Clifford to be patient.
• The Maple Leafs lead in the NHL in bench minors (10). The only penalty called for either team all night was Keefe’s automatic delay-of-game for incorrectly challenging offsides on Chychrun’s first goal.
Neither Matthews nor Keefe wanted to publicly rip the referees for missing obvious penalties in the fourth period.
“You guys watch the games,” Keefe said.
• Tourigny is a fun quote. When asked if he has a game plan to stop Auston Matthews: “If I find it, I will make a lot of money.”