TORONTO – Few patterns seem as inevitable as Michael Hutchinson who finds himself in the net for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Even though the body of goalkeepers around him has undergone a major overhaul in recent seasons – Torch No.1 has gone from Frederik Andersen to Jack Campbell, the roster of next men dotted with names such as Garret Sparks, David Rittich, now Petr Mrazek – Hutchinson has continued to return as the club’s fallback option, keeping the fort strong when injuries sway the team’s plans.
He will take on that role again on Friday against the San Jose Sharks, with coach Sheldon Keefe naming the 31-year-old as the starter for the first installment of his team’s next straight game.
This was not how the plan was supposed to end five games in the year, with Mrazek signing an $ 11.4 million contract during the offseason to form a quality tandem with the Maple Leafs alongside Campbell. But a groin injury sustained in Mrazek’s first round in blue and white brought Hutchinson back into the picture as Campbell rests for Saturday’s tilt.
After what he showed last time around, the club are confident Hutchinson is up to the task again.
“He turned out to be extremely valuable,” Keefe said of Hutchinson after Thursday practice. “We saw last season, when he got into this role, he did a really good job for us, won some big games. I think he’s done a really good job of building the confidence that the organization and his teammates have in him.
The Maple Leafs loyalists need only look to their team’s next two opponents in this back-to-back streak to get a feel for the worth of their veteran No.3.
In San Jose, goaltenders’ shallower depth in recent seasons has forced the Sharks to ride with Martin Jones longer than they likely would have liked as his numbers continued to dip. And the Pittsburgh Penguins, who will face the Maple Leafs on Saturday, just saw their 2021 postseason effort crumble because they lacked a quality No. 3 to play in place of Tristan Jarry – the young starter. was put back in the net for a Game 6 to win or come home against the Islanders, although he appeared shaken after a double blunder in overtime a game before, with the club having little choice with their second injured option and his third having only 18 games of experience in the big leagues.
“The ability to have a guy of this caliber, who has played in the league as much as him, as a third goaltender is a great asset for us to have here,” said Keefe. “I thought he was exceptional in training today. Called. And that’s the kind of stuff you need your depth to. “
Hutchinson will be in a favorable position to make his season debut on Friday, with the Sharks coming to town to face the well-rested Maple Leafs after a row with the Ottawa Senators on Thursday night.
“We were trying to put Hutchinson in a position to be successful, and we felt that finishing a training day in a match day tomorrow was a good opportunity for him to do so,” Keefe said of the decision. to make him participate in the match. 1 from back to back.
The club’s continued effort to handle Campbell’s workload in Mrazek’s absence was also part of the equation, Keefe said. The 29-year-old only had about 15 minutes of work in Tuesday’s practice before leaving earlier as training was shaping up to be heavy for the goalkeepers. He was back in the mix as a full participant on Thursday.
Campbell will get the Penguins back in the cage, with every chance of success given that Pittsburgh looks likely to be without centers Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jeff Carter, as well as Jarry. But judging from what he’s shown so far, the Leafs No.1 is ready no matter who enters the opposing roster on Saturday.
“He’s on fire,” William Nylander said Thursday of his keeper. “I told him he was amazing. And he just needs to keep playing the way he played, and we’ll be good. “
Campbell kicks off his fourth start with a .953 save percentage this season, after two impressive wins over Montreal and Ottawa and plenty of late heroism in a savage overtime loss to the Rangers on Monday that could have flipped either way.
“Phenomenal. That’s what we expected of him,” Jason Spezza said of Campbell’s play so far. “He was here for a while before camp and is working really hard on his game. that he’s gaining confidence in his game, that he’s got the chance to play a lot of games in a row. You know, I think last year gave him that confidence, knowing he can do it. Now, he looks very calm with it, and just like that.