The Toronto Maple Leafs have one of the NHL’s best goaltenders in Frederik Andersen, a competent backup in Garret Sparks, and a sky-high record at the moment.
So naturally, January – largely considered to be the do-or-die month of the season for teams as they head towards the trade deadline and start to solidify their playoff positions – will see the team kick things off without either goaltender.
The Leafs are expecting recent pickup Michael Hutchinson to make his Toronto debut this afternoon, filling in as starter with Kasimir Kaskisuo as his number two as the team takes on the Minnesota Wild for the holiday break matinee.
Andersen is out with a groin injury, which has left the team icing Sparks as the de facto number one since just before the Christmas break. Now, Sparks is undergoing mandated concussion protocol to boot, so it’s time to see just how much damage the team’s loss of McElhinney and Pickard did this summer.
Hutchinson got a bit of a bad rep in Winnipeg as the guy stuck in-between Ondrej Pavelec and Connor Hellebuyck. He wasn’t quite good enough to take the reins away from Pavelec entirely before Hellebuyck arrived, and he certainly wasn’t good enough to beat out Hellebuyck for starts before getting shuffled out of the system this summer.
Lack of consistent starts has left him without strong numbers, but when he gets into a groove he’s a perfectly competent NHL netminder. Nothing about his game will particularly wow Leafs fans, but he’s proven in the past to be positionally conservative enough that they won’t complain about him being too busy. Think James Reimer, but without the extra NHL opportunities.
The good news for Toronto is that Devan Dubnyk has been flying this season with his left prop engine going haywire. Every time he rights the plane, the engine misfires again and sends him into another brief statistical tailspin until he resets the course.
If Toronto gets the high-performing Dubnyk, they’re in trouble. In his good games, he’s the Vezina-caliber goaltender that Minnesota picked up in 2015. If they get the poor Dubnyk, though, it’s almost a guaranteed win; when he plays poorly, the team goes down with him. The roster is adequate, but it’s getting old enough that it has trouble surviving without a strong performance in net.
In other news, Matt Hendricks is still in the NHL. This defies all explanation, especially after I watched him labor his way up and down the ice last year – so naturally, he’s my money bet to score the first goal of the game.