It’s road trippin’ season!
The Toronto Maple Leafs are on game two of a stretch that will see them play 8 of 9 games on the road, coming off a tough loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in Pennsylvania.
Despite that loss, the Leafs are one of the league’s hotter teams this year. They’re inconsistent – as young, developing teams can be – but they’re fun to watch, and they currently sit second in their division behind only the Tampa Bay Lightning (who look to be this year’s far favorite for the Stanley Cup).
On the other side of the ice, the Minnesota Wild remain the league’s most forgettable playoff team. They’re currently clinging tightly to the second Western Conference Wild Card spot, but they’re just one Corey Crawford hot streak away from losing ground to the (currently outside the playoff picture) Chicago Blackhawks – and that’s far from good news for them, as their own starting goaltender was just announced as week-to-week with an injury.
WILD LINES (YEEHAW)
The Leafs are (unsurprisingly) rolling with Freddie Andersen again, giving him his 28th start on the season in just 33 games played.
So far, the results are in Andersen’s favor – he’s got a .922 save percentage in all situations, a .927 at even strength, and has a remarkable .704 quality start percentage – but at this current pace, the starter is set to appear in 70 games before the playoffs even start.
I know some of the site’s readers like to point to Martin Brodeur’s ability to play 70-plus games in Stanley Cup-winning seasons, but keep in mind – Brodeur played his heaviest workloads during the neutral zone trap era, whereas Andersen is playing both in an era of higher shot volumes and behind a higher-than-league-average porous defense. The Leafs are allowing just under 35 shots per game; when Brodeur made 73 appearances in the 2002-03 season, he faced just 23 shots per game. In the modern game, playing your goaltender too often can certainly run the risk of leading to fatigue.
Which, of course, brings us across the ice.
The Minnesota Wild have iced Devan Dubnyk with alarming frequency when he’s healthy, and he certainly seems to pay the price now and again. Sure enough, he’s out right now, sitting week-to-week with a lower-body injury.
Instead, the Leafs will be facing Alex Stalock. Fans may remember him as the guy that sat on Toronto’s payroll for a brief period in 2016, playing exactly three games with the AHL Marlies before signing with Minnesota as a free agent.
Stalock is having a pretty decent season, despite boasting a .907 save percentage in all situations. He’s been burned by a miserable, sub-.800 game dragging his overall save percentage down (he’s only appeared in nine contests and counting), but overall his numbers have been very good; he has a .714 quality start percentage of his own and managed to stop 40 shots against the Washington Capitals just last month.
- Still no Auston Matthews, which is too bad – but after a slow start to his season, Marner is up to 18 assists and 20 points in 32 games for Toronto this year. He has yet to really rediscover his scoring touch, but he’s getting the points; for now, the team will have to take that.
- The Wild have been more than a bit injury-plagued this year, but the real storyline may be Stalock’s return to Toronto. He certainly had some thoughts about his brief time with the organization, which didn’t work out much in his favor; after getting moved as a body dump in the James Reimer trade, he got very little ice time and was reportedly not even asked to show up for the playoffs in the AHL. He’s turned things around since then, working his way back to the NHL level – but his time with Toronto has to be weighing on his mind a bit.