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Photo Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Petr Mrazek to start in goal for Maple Leafs against Buffalo Sabres on Sunday

Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe has elected to give Petr Mrazek another chance.

The veteran goaltender will start in goal when the Maple Leafs visit the Buffalo Sabres in the 2022 NHL Heritage Classic on Sunday.

“There’s a lot of stuff going on there that make it obvious for us to give Petr another chance to go back in,” Keefe said of the decision.

The topic of starting goaltender for the outdoor game was seemingly moot on Thursday morning when the Maple Leafs announced that a rib injury would keep goaltender Jack Campbell out of the lineup for at least two weeks.

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However, Mrazek struggled in his first start as “the guy” in net against the Arizona Coyotes. He allowed four goals on 12 shots before Keefe pulled the chute and forced callup backup Erik Kallgren into his NHL debut.

Down 4-1 in the second period at the time of Mrazek’s pull, the Leafs came back and forced overtime before falling to the Arizona Coyotes 5-4.

Kallgren was lauded by Keefe for his calm and poise at the net. He made 10 saves on 11 shots and helped pull Mrazek out of a losing situation.

“Kallgren showed us, very well, that he can go in for us if we need him to,” Keefe said. But Petr’s experience (at an outdoor game) and the fact that we want to give him a chance to get back in there and show better and the work he put in here today, he’ll be the guy for Sunday.”

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Mrazek started in goal for the Detroit Red Wings in the 2016 NHL Stadium Series.

Both Mrazek and Kallgren put in a lot of work with goaltending coach Steve Briere and skills coach Denver Manderson on Friday. Mrazek’s determination to show he can be better was also a deciding factor.

“Petr had a good workday and the reports were all really good and positive,” Keefe said. “And that was the last thing I was looking for before making the decision for Sunday.”

Mrazek is 10-5-0 this season with an .884 save percentage. The 30-year-old signed a three-year, $11.8 million contract in July to help support incumbent starter Campbell.

Both goaltenders have struggled over the last few months. But Keefe also pointed to the fact that Mrazek has 10 wins as a deciding factor to give him a chance to correct course.

“We don’t feel we’ve been very good consistently in front of our goalies in our own end,” Maple Leafs captain John Tavares said of Mrazek. “We know he’s a great netminder. Obviously, he’s got a very strong resume. He’s shown that many times this year where he’s bailed us out and giving us opportunities to win. So we got to do the same for him and our goaltending.”

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The Maple Leafs have allowed four or more goals in their last five games. Over the course of the last month, the Leafs have been allowing quality scoring chances against, despite outshooting their opponents and leading the way in offensive-zone possession.

“I think we have to do a better job of reducing the Grade-As (chances) that our goalies are seeing,” Jason Spezza said.

Spezza will return to the lineup on Sunday after he sat out the last couple of games as a healthy scratch. Although Keefe explained that the first game was to give him a rest and the second day was to give some new lines a look, the 38-year-old veteran took it as a sign that he needs to increase his level of play.

“I take it as I need to play better,” Spezza said. “I want to be in the lineup every night and if I was playing better, I’d be in the lineup.”

No word yet as to which player will come out in place of Spezza.

The Leafs held an optional skate before the team holds a full session at Tim Horton’s Field on Saturday.

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