Here’s the thing, we all know what happened last night, and no one is going to be more familiar with what happened than the Leafs goaltenders. Quite simply, David Rittich shit the bed. He’s not the first Leafs goaltender to do it this season, and there’s a lot of evidence showing that he won’t be the last one either.
Unfortunately the truth is the Leafs desperately need goaltending to stay afloat in the playoffs. I’m not sure you need to make a case for stellar, lights out goaltending, but a salvageable effort that keeps the Leafs in the game. To put it plainly, when the Leafs have received a .900 save percentage from their goaltending, they’ve only lost twice this year. Once in a 2-1 loss to Montreal, and once getting shutout 3-0 by the previously mentioned David Rittich when he was still a member of the Calgary Flames.
It is painfully obvious that Leafs worst hockey of the year has coincided with the worst goaltending stretches of the year, and the Leafs best hockey has come at times when they’ve been receiving consistent goaltending. The six recent games, as seen in the ugly graph above, show the Leafs are experiencing their second worst goaltending stretch of the year, following the run of goaltending while Andersen was playing through his injury, Campbell was shut down, and Hutchinson was backing up Freddie in games 25-31.
The issue this go around is different than that first wave, because there was still some optimism left in the form of the promise of a Jack Campbell return, and the hope that something would be done at the trade deadline. Jack Campbell’s return did provide hope and the Leafs did add David Rittich at the trade deadline, but now we’re stuck with the reality is Jack Campbell was bound to come down to Earth, and when he did he crashed hard, and David Rittich is a whole lot of anything unless he’s playing against the Leafs.
David Rittich vs. The North Division
|Toronto Maple Leafs||4||1||0.941|
The reality of the situation is that Rittich was very good at facing the Leafs and not a whole lot else this year. He’s serviceable against the Jets, so we’ll see if Toronto can get some mileage out of that at some point this weekend, but Michael Hutchinson’s eight games played with six appearances with a save percentage of .900 look a lot more appealing than leaning into Rittich. Hutchinson is sitting on a .919 save percentage in limited usage, and if we remove the dreadful outing where Hutchinson was pulled after giving up two goals on the first three shots against Ottawa, he could be the more favourable train wreck of these two potential third string goaltenders at the moment.
Jack Campbell is an easy goaltender to idealize. Setting a record for 11 straight wins to start his season gives the illusion of him being ready to be a true number one goaltender. The fact that only 7 of Campbell’s 14 appearances this year see him with a save percentage over .900 is more bothersome, and the fact that he has just one game with a save percentage over .900 in his last six outings probably means it’s not the surefire answer at this point. He could very well be part of the answer, and if you take out his last four games, he was above .900 in 7 of his first 10 games of the season, he starts giving the illusion of being consistent. Between games 2 and 10, his save percentage dipped below .897 just once, and that’s likely the most consistent hockey we’ve seen from a Leafs goaltender all year.
Finally, there’s Andersen, who has become the potential last hope for the Leafs, or at least someone who along with Jack Campbell can stabilize the position come playoff time. Considering that a lot of the frustration Leafs fans have had this year was born of the play from Andersen both this year and in the playoffs in previous years, the fact that his return will be greeted with excitement and relief is concerning.
Highlighted on the graph above is when Andersen initially went off injured, and the game (Gm 17) that he returned to provide relief in net with Jack Campbell now off injured. We can see that there was a decline heading into the initial injury for his hot play between games 10-13, but it wasn’t until he rushed himself back from injury that his play truly went off a cliff.
While there were concerns about Andersen from Day one of the season, and generally games 10-17 provided optimism (outside game 14) that he was playing better, his performances weren’t short on questionable goals even when he was reliable beyond that. The thing is, that stretch at least points to a healthy Andersen at least keeps the Leafs in the game enough that the offence can win it.
Most of the time this can’t be completely on the goaltender
While the loss to the Canucks on Tuesday night certainly can be put largely on David Rittich, there are other factors that still came in to play besides poor goaltending. Sheldon Keefe attempting to see what a Rielly-Holl pairing would look like (it was terrible), the injury to Zach Bogosian which forced the Leafs to play with five defensemen for half the game, the absences of key defensive minded forwards like Zach Hyman, Ilya Mikheyev, and Pierre Engvall, and the deployment of Alex Kerfoot in the top six instead of anchoring a shutdown line could have all made things more difficult, not to mention Rittich still adjusting to being a Leaf, playing in just his third game. Team defense and adjustment to a new goaltender could certainly factor in, but can’t excuse two of the worst goals we’ve seen all season.
The reality is for the Leafs to be a successful team in the rest of the regular season, and certainly in the playoffs is that the mindset of the scoring three goals should win you a hockey game needs to be thrown out the window. The Leafs need that fourth goal and on a team that features a top six of Matthews, Marner, Tavares, Nylander, Hyman, Foligno, and a pretty solid supporting cast beyond that, four goals might be more attainable than trying to hold their opposition to two.
The Leafs goaltending situation requires an overhaul, but that’s not coming this season. Next year it can be explored if the Leafs need a high end starter, a tandem partner for Jack Campbell, and even if Steve Briere is still the right goaltender coach for this team. For now, the Leafs might be better off focusing on getting their offence going, which has been almost as sluggish as their goaltending.
Data sourced from Hockey-Reference.com