It’s highly unusual for the backup goaltender to take the podium on a game day.
It’s also highly unusual for a winning goaltender to get yanked mid-game due to poor performance while his team is leading.
But here we are.
Or, rather, here is Jack Campbell.
Fittingly the Toronto Maple Leafs No. 1 netminder tried to take his mind off hockey Sunday in Washington, D.C., by checking out the No. 1 film at the box office, Uncharted (his review: “Solid”).
Campbell himself is in uncharted territory as he rides the roller coaster that is a full 82 games in the white-hot Toronto market — without the seatbelt that is contract security.
And his play is sliding off the rails.
“It's a mental block kinda thing going on right now that he's got to work his way through, but he'll get there,” said coach Sheldon Keefe, ahead of Monday’s game against the Washington Capitals.
“We think there’s a good goalie there that will find a level of consistency, and that’s what we continue to work through here now.”
The 30-year-old’s freefall is precipitous, from deserved All-Star Game invitee and backbone of his club’s pre-Christmas success to a .887 save percentage and a loosened grip on the starter’s gig since Jan. 1.
“It’s simple. I'm the same goalie I was to start year as far as strategy and talent, things like that,” Campbell said. “Just relax and having some fun and not beat myself up too much. So, I'm still working. You know, it's a process. But I have great people in my life, great teammates, and I'll snap out of it.
“It’s just having fun and chilling out a little bit. That’s it.”
Sensing Campbell had become a liability Saturday in Detroit, as the Red Wings threw four pucks past the starter within the first 5:21 of the third period, Keefe felt he had no choice but to put in Petr Mrazek late to secure the win.
Just as he’d done last month against New Jersey, Mrazek secured the two points in relief. He’ll hold the net Monday.
Keefe made a point to speak with Mrazek post-game, acknowledging he put him in a difficult spot by calling on him so late and cold. Keefe says he leaves goalie coach Steve Briere to talk over the rough outing with Campbell.
Campbell likens the veteran Mrazek’s “laid-back demeanour” to that of former Leaf Frederik Andersen. Both are quick to share information. Both are supportive.
Neither is as emotional as Campbell, whose recent struggles appear to be a direct cause of the pressure he’s exerting on himself.
“I mean, it’s not really my game,” Campbell said. “I’m the same goalie. It’s just having fun and chilling a little bit.”
Campbell’s work in the first half of his contract season was so stellar, it was unsustainable. (Fun fact: His 2021-22 save percentage and career save percentage are now and identical .917.) But his drop-off has to be a concern, particularly with the injury-prone Mrazek (8-4-0, .894) not exactly stealing the crease and running with it himself.
“Jack had earned all the attention and the accolades that were coming with his play. You have to be prepared for it to come the other way. Maybe you don't want to have such extremes,” Keefe said.
“Knowing this was going to be Petr’s start today, there's more time for Jack to clear his head and get back to work.”
Goaltending ranked below a top-four defenceman and a top-six winger on the Maple Leafs’ wish list ahead of the March 21 trade deadline, but if the saves don’t show up, one must wonder if priorities shift.
Captain John Tavares cast a vote of confidence for Toronto’s shaky tandem in the wake of Saturday’s 10-7 gong show.
“Ninety-nine per cent of the games, those two guys give us a great chance to win,” Tavares said.
“So, just flush it. Get back to work, as they both do really well. Trust who they are.”
One-Timers: Toronto is dealing with a flu bug, so its lineup will not be set until after warmups. “It seems like we’ve gotten through the worst of it but hoping it stays that way,” Keefe said…. Ilya Samsonov will start in goal for the Capitals. Defenceman Justin Schultz (upper body) is a game-time decision, while Dmitry Orlov (personal reasons) is expected to play…. Tavares is expected to play but admits he is still recovering with illness…. Interestingly, Auston Matthews — named NHL’s First Star of the Week — took reps in the bumper position of Toronto’s power-play Monday morning. Despite lighting the lamp 10 times in Detroit Saturday, the Leafs were held without a power-play goal.