He may sit on the bench tonight (at least to start), but the Leafs have finally called up one of my favorite prospects; goaltender Garret Sparks was given the nod to replace an injured James Reimer in Toronto’s lineup against the Washington Capitals on Saturday night.
Will that be enough to overcome Braden Holtby? Probably not. But it’s my favorite storyline and I’m sticking to it.
The Leafs are playing the Washington Capitals coming off an overtime shootout loss to the Boston Bruins. They didn’t look awful, but the Capitals have looked even better than the Bruins lately; this won’t be an easy game to play.
Alex Ovechkin is amazing. Nicklas Backstrom is amazing. Braden Holtby is amazing. This we know.
Leo Komarov has been amazing, though, and Tyler Bozak has been scoring so much that my friend actually had to drop him from his reverse standings fantasy lineup. The Leafs aren’t in bad shape at all, and this could be a fun game to check out.
The Capitals are icing the terror twins in Michael Latta and Tom Wilson as part of their fourth line, which is always fun to watch. The duo crash and bang their way to subpar possession stats, but one time jumped into the Pittsburgh Penguins bench to fight half the team together. So there’s that.
Andre Burakovsky is once again getting the nod in the lineup over Stanislav Galiev, by the way, which is an interesting situation to monitor. Galiev is no longer waiver exempt, but the Capitals have monster forward depth and it’s essentially been trapping him out of the lineup. After missing nearly a full season from injury, Galiev is now a question mark in Washington’s system; if he’s waived by Washington at any point, though, he’d be an interesting Toronto claim.
I have no real feelings about anything in Washington’s lineup except that I think Backstrom is still underrated and Marcus Johansson doesn’t belong as a second line winger, but he’s been doing well this year. If they want to ride his good performance as far as it takes them, all the more power to them.
Once again, it looks like Frank Corrado hasn’t drawn into the lineup, instead continuing to solidify his permanence in the press box.
This makes zero sense, unless Brendan Shanahan and Lou Lamoriello are just REALLY invested in trolling the Canucks. While that’s a hilarious possibility, it does zero for the development of a seemingly decent prospect and is actually kind of annoying from a future considerations perspective. Plus, if I’m Corrado, I’m furious.
Scott Harrington was reassigned to the AHL to spend more time developing, which is a nice touch; if Corrado won’t get a shot in the lineup, it’s only reasonable to give Harrington quality minutes in the AHL instead. Leo Komarov continues his comeback on the top line; an experiment I hope isn’t carried over into multiple seasons like the Tyler Bozak top line one was, but does good things for the team as they are right now. The middle two lines are acceptable; the bottom line is… there.
Jonathan Bernier will chase his first win of the 2015-2016 season with the nod for tonight’s game.
If he fails to play well, this is a potential win-win scenario for everyone involved; the Capitals, Garret Sparks, and the Leafs in their quest for Auston Matthews. It’s even a potential win for a team like Montreal, who could ostensibly look to make a deal for Bernier if Price is indeed out for as long as he may end up being out; the only person who loses in that scenario is Bernier.
Back to Sparks, though.
Once a member of the gold medal-winning 2013 Team USA roster at the World Junior Championships, Sparks is a cool comeback story; he went from one of the USA’s top goaltending prospects to a ‘maybe’ playing in the ECHL post-surgery, then slowly dominated at both the ECHL and AHL levels in order to reach the point he’s at now.
When Bernier was out, the Leafs recalled Antoine Bibeau to back up a then-surging James Reimer; now, the team has opted to use Sparks in lieu of Bibeau, which I find telling.
Even when Bernier first went down for like a day and a half, Reimer was a goaltender the Leafs had faith in; now that Reimer is the one out, the Leafs are stuck with a starter who has gone 0-7-0 on the year. The likelihood of his backup needing to play, either as relief tonight or in their next game, is somewhat high; the decision to recall Sparks over Bibeau shows a subtle but noticeable declaration that the Leafs have faith in Sparks being able to handle an appearance in the lineup. As last year’s ECHL starter, that’s pretty huge.
For the Capitals, Braden Holtby is making his first back to back start of the season; he’s on a six game personal winning streak for a team that’s on a four game winning streak of their own, though.
This is a gamble by the Capitals. If Holtby is too tired from his last run of impressive games, they’ve opted for the starter in a way that’s potentially cost them the game. If he plays well, though, they’re riding the hot streak into a third-in-the-NHL, first in the Metro spot. That’s a risky gamble, but one that has the potential to pay off.
Holtby is 5-1-1 all time against the Leafs, so that’s a ringing endorsement for him. The Leafs will just have to hope that this start just one night after his last one will be too much for the netminder.