Petr Mrazek will get another shot in goal when the Maple Leafs host the New Jersey Devils at Scotiabank Arena on Wednesday.
“Talking to him he really seems to be in a good place, relative to what he’s been through here and has handled it well,” Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said of his decision. “We’ve had a good gap in time since we’ve played our last game and it’s been a long gap since Petr’s played, so for all those reasons it’s a good opportunity to get him back going tonight.”
Mrazek gets the nod after rookie goaltender Erik Kallgren started the last three games. Kallgren is 2-1-0 in four appearances with a .930 save percentage this season.
The 30-year-old Mrazek has struggled in his first season with the Maple Leafs. He has an .884 save percentage since he became joining the Leafs. Signed to a three-year, $11.4 million contract this summer to play in tandem with incumbent goaltender Jack Campbell, the Czech goaltender was placed on waivers on Sunday. He cleared on Monday and continued to practice with the team this week.
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“I know it can be a challenge on guys,” Maple Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly said of waivers. “I mean, you wouldn’t know it. He (Mrazek) came in yesterday and worked really hard, he’s here today, it’s just kind of business as usual and that’s really impressive.”
Keefe had some strong words for Mrazek following practice yesterday and expects him to be humbled by the experience of both being placed and clearing waivers.
“Kallgren’s done a really good job for us and has stabilized our goaltending at a time when we really needed it,” Keefe said. “Petr’s a guy who has great experience in this league and in finding his game and then going on a great run, so for those reasons, so for all those reasons it’s natural to get him going again, for sure.”
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Mark Giordano and Colin Blackwell will make their Leafs debut on Wednesday.
The Maple Leafs acquired Giordano and Blackwell from the Seattle Kraken on Sunday in exchange for a pair of second-round picks and a third-round pick. The Kraken retained 50 per cent of Giordano’s $6.75 million salary-cap hit as part of the deal.
Giordano, the 2019 Norris Trophy winner, skated on the team’s third pair with Timothy Liljegren at practice on Tuesday.
“He’s a great player,” Giordano said of Liljegren. “He’s got super skill, everyone knows that but really good poise with the puck and patience and happy to play with him.”
Keefe stressed that although Giordano is starting with Liljegren against the Devils, it’s not necessarily the look will go with to finish the season.
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Rasmus Sandin is out “weeks” with a knee injury, although he is able to work out and be mobile. Jake Muzzin is still out with a concussion he suffered on Feb. 21 against the Montreal Canadiens. The veteran defenceman has been taking part in practice while wearing a red non-contact jersey.
Giordano will also quarterback the Maple Leafs’ second power-play unit.
Blackwell will also skate on the second power-play unit in the bumper spot that is typically occupied by Ondrej Kase.
Kase was injured in the team’s 6-3 loss to the Nashville Predators on Saturday. He’s doing “well” according to Keefe and the Czech forward was pushing to come back into the game after leaving during the second period. He was seen walking around the team’s practice facility on Tuesday.
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Blackwell skated on the team’s fourth line with Jason Spezza and Wayne Simmonds.
“Spezza, he’s a legend of the game and so is simmer,” Blackwell said of his linemates. “A couple of big bodies always in net-front, I think my speed and my tenacity on the puck will hopefully complement them pretty well.”
Although Blackwell will start the season on the fourth line, there could be some opportunity to move up in the lineup as the season moves forward.
Black Next-Gen uniforms
Giordano joked on Wednesday that he always envision a day as a kid when he’d make his debut in the blue and white, but he’ll wear black and blue as the club wears specially-made jerseys for this year’s edition of the Next-Gen game.
The Maple Leafs spared no detail ahead of Wednesday’s game. The coaches wore all-black tracksuits for the last couple of days of practice in anticipation of the game.
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“I like the black tracksuits a lot,” Keefe said. “I think obviously the Leafs are and forever will be blue and white and that’s what we’re known for, but obviously it’s time for the next generation of fans and I know that my kids love it so I think that’s the target audience they’re going for.”