The Toronto Maple Leafs return to action on Saturday, completing their six-game road swing against the NY Islanders at UBS Arena. The game was originally scheduled to be played at Scotiabank Arena, but it was flipped to the Isles new building in Queens due to the fan limitations in Ontario. New York will instead visit Toronto on April 17, when 100% fan capacity is expected.
The Leafs have gone 2-2-1 in the previous five games, displaying defensive lapses and surrendering multi-goal leads in four of the five contests, which has raised the frustration level of head coach Sheldon Keefe.
Keefe indicated that the club was “soft and purposeless” in their 6-3 loss to the New York Rangers on Wednesday, but attempted to walk back those comments after practice in East Meadow, NY on Friday.
“We’ve competed on a really high level all season long and we have been a team that’s been difficult to play against when we’re at our best. We’re a team that has played with the best in the league and established ourselves against (them),” Keefe said. “That’s where we need to work to get better. My belief in this team has not changed in any way. It’s just the fact that our standards slipped the other night with the lead in the second and third periods and we can’t win playing that way.”
The Leafs will make a few lineup changes against the Isles, who have won three straight including a 4-0 shutout of Arizona on Friday. Joey Anderson replaced Kyle Clifford on the fourth line with Wayne Simmonds and Jason Spezza at practice, while veteran Carl Dahlstrom was recalled from the taxi squad to replace Alex Biega on the bottom pairing with Travis Dermott (Biega and Dermott went a collective -5 vs. NYR).
The most impactful change is between the pipes, with veteran Petr Mrazek getting the start in goal. Mrazek missed nearly six weeks with a groin injury, which has put most of the workload on Jack Campbell’s shoulders and limited the 29-year-old to just four starts. Campbell has thrived as the primary starter, earning an All-Star nod on the strength of a 19-6-3 record, 2.24 GAA and .927 save percentage, but “Soup” has shown some signs of slippage and mental fatigue in recent starts and it is imperative that Toronto gets Mrazek on track with an extremely busy schedule going forward.
The Leafs revamped February schedule has them playing 11 games in 21 days after the All-Star break, and for Toronto to maintain pace with Tampa and Florida, they will need both their netminders playing at a high level.
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