We’re into yet another season where expectations are high for the Toronto Maple Leafs. So, starting with a record of 1-1 was not ideal, while seeing that dip to 1-2 could seem disastrous. Of course, there’s plenty of hockey left to play, but that wouldn’t have been ideal.
Luckily for the Maple Leafs, coach Sheldon Keefe chose correctly by giving Jack Campbell the net for Game 3. Yes, it was a back-to-back situation so there was a case to play him either way, but Frederik Andersen’s lacklustre starts to begin the year made it an even easier call.
Campbell was acquired by Toronto in the midst of the 2019-20 campaign. The move provided a sense of collective calm over this fanbase, which had endured inconsistent goaltending depth for far too long to that point. It finally felt like that was changing.
While there was no question that Andersen was Toronto’s undisputed starter, and for good reason, adding Campbell meant more than just having a way to lower Andersen’s workload from time to time. Despite entering the lineup as a perennial backup, there’s no doubt that Campbell wants a bigger role.
Competition in the Toronto Maple Leafs Crease
With the unique nature of how the 2020-21 campaign is structured, it opens up a lot of opportunities for goaltenders who may not be granted that same chance in any other typical year. Backups will play a lot more, simply due to scheduling, which means competition for the crease could be at an all-time high.
Andersen is already known as a slow-starter, which doesn’t bode well for his reputation. Heading into a contract negotiation year, now’s not the time for his play to slip at any point if he expects a big payday by the end of it.
Starting his campaign 1-1, with a 4.47 goals against average, and .839 save percentage isn’t exactly the way to earn much trust throughout one’s locker room. Of course, it’s a small sample size to assess, but every game means that much more in this shortened season. (Stats courtesy of: Hockey-Reference.)
Keefe had already announced Campbell would start the second game in as many nights against the Ottawa Senators, but Andersen’s performance reaffirmed that it was the right decision to make.
And after Campbell controlled the game far better through his first 60 minutes, it seems clear that Keefe should stick with what’s working. While it continues to be the better option, anyway.
The Numbers Don’t Lie
Despite a lighter workload in terms of shots faced, Campbell was still able to turn away 17 of 19 against the Senators towards earning his first win of the season. After one game, he now owns a GAA of 2.01 and SV% of .895. (Stats courtesy of: Hockey-Reference.)
No, those are not bragworthy numbers. However, they are better than what Andersen displayed in either of his first two starts. That shouldn’t be ignored. They can’t afford such a luxury this season.
In a pivotal year for the franchise, when expectations are higher than they’ve been in decades, those making the decisions on this team’s structure game in and game out need not overlook what’s right in front of them.
Beyond their respective stat lines, it’s hard to dismiss how calm, cool, and collected Campbell came across. Where Andersen appears to be playing a more anxious game, Campbell has maintained a composure that’s allowed him to both earn a win and give kudos for a goal scored against him all in the same night.
Listen, this isn’t a perspective suggesting the Toronto Maple Leafs prepare to ship Andersen out of town. It’s simply calling out the obvious, in that Campell has performed better and therefore deserves the chance to carry that momentum forward.
Andersen will regain his net, as he should, while this friendly competition works to extract the best out of both professionals. Andersen needs to see this as the reality he’s created for himself based on a pattern of slow starts, while recognizing the importance of every single save this year.
Besides, it’s to Toronto’s advantage to put themselves in the most strategic position possible on any given night. This isn’t the year to take unnecessary chances, which should mean less thinking is required. Those performing better should play more. It’s really that simple.