Garret Sparks and the Toronto Maple Leafs will take on the Chicago Blackhawks tonight at the United Center.
Sparks will be in net tonight for the Toronto Maple Leafs. After last night’s game against the Ottawa Senators, Mike Babcock has opted to go with his backup net-minder to give Frederik Andersen some rest.
Aside from the change in net, Babcock hasn’t announced any changes to his lineup. In an interview with TSN’s Kristen Shilton after last night’s affair against the Senators, Babcock mentioned that he would determine his lines after watching game tape and some rest.
Unfortunately, Sparks had a rough preseason, but due to the number of goaltender contracts that the Toronto Maple Leafs had, Kyle Dubas wanted to avoid losing Sparks on waivers. Instead, Dubas decided to waive Calvin Pickard and Curtis McElhinney.
It makes a lot of sense as Sparks is coming off a great season with the Toronto Marlies and more than likely would have been gone if put on waivers. In 43 games played last season, he registered a 1.79 GAA, 31 wins, 6 shutouts and a 0.936 SV%. His performance in net paved the way for him to earn multiple AHL awards including the Harry “Happ” Holmes Memorial Award and the Baz Bastien Memorial Award.
He also helped pave the way for the Toronto Marlies to win the Calder Cup last season. In the Calder Cup playoffs, he was a brick wall. In 19 playoff games, Sparks posted a 2.22 GAA and a .915 SV%. It’s safe to say that if Sparks wasn’t manning the pipes for the Marlies that the squad might not have had the chance to raise up the Calder Cup.
It’s also a homecoming for the 25-year-old goaltender. He grew up in Elmhurst, Illinois, which is just a stone’s throw from Chicago O’Hare International Airport. Toronto Maple Leafs just need to hope that Sparks’ family didn’t overfeed him with deep dish pizza from Gino’s East or Lou Malnati’s, Italian beef sandwiches, Chicago-style hot dogs and Old Style beer.
Sparks will have to push his Blackhawks fandom to the side tonight and focus on shutting down the Blackhawks offense. As of late, the Blackhawks offense has been pretty solid. In their last two games, they have outscored the competition 9-7.
The Blackhawks are coming off an overtime road win against the St. Louis Blues last night. Jonathan Toews was phenomenal for the Blackhawks last night as he recorded a hat trick on the road in St. Louis, Missouri. Not only did he score a goal to tie the game in the third period, but he also scored the game-winning goal in overtime. After a rough season offensively for Chicago, Joel Quenneville, the head coach of the Blackhawks has helped his offence come back to life.
While the Blackhawks offence has been on fire, their defence is a different situation. Aside from Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, the Blackhawks don’t truly have solid defensive depth. In the past few games, they’ve decided to pair Finnish national, Henri Jokiharju with Keith on the top line. Jokiharju has been effective in the first two games for the Blackhawks, but it’s only been two games. He’s got a ton of upside and Blackhawks fans will be hoping that he continues to succeed otherwise Stan Bowman, general manager of the Blackhawks might have to scour over the trade market. On the second line, Quenneville has paired Brandon Manning with Seabrook.
At this point in Seabrook’s career, it’s hard to depend on him for top four minutes.
The Toronto Maple Leafs shouldn’t have much difficulty tonight. As long as the Maple Leafs defensive core can shut down the Blackhawks top two offensive lines, the Maple Leafs should be primed to grab their second win of the regular season.
Puck drop will be at approximately 7:05 pm EST and the game can be found on NHL Network in the United States and Rogers Sportsnet in Canada.
Stats from NHL.com and hockey-reference.com