Anyone predicting even a few weeks ago that Garret Sparks and Antoine Bibeau would be the Leafs’ starter and backup respectively come early December would’ve been accused of indulging in the Rob Ford Special.
But here we are.
Icing on the cake for the goaltending circus: As a result of Bibeau’s emergency recall, the Marlies signed a zamboni driver to an Amateur Tryout Agreement to backup Jonathan Bernier yesterday — the result of Reimer re-injuring whatever kept him out of the lineup prior to the game versus the Wild on Thursday. In this afternoon’s Marlies game, Bernier is backing up 27-year-old journeyman Rob Madore.
After hosting New Jersey on Tuesday, the Leafs take an entire week off before a flurry of four games in five days before Christmas. That will do the Leafs just fine as they look to get Reimer back and healthy, while Bernier — who posted a shutout in his Marlies debut last night — will have the chance to get a number of AHL starts in by the time the team resumes action on December 15 vs. the Lightning.
In any event, Sparks starts his third NHL game tonight against a very good opponent in the St. Louis Blues, but at least they’re a Blues team that has struggled to score at the same prolific rate as past years. They’ve been a top-six offense two years running but find themselves scoring at a more modest 2.54 goals-per-game clip 26 games into 2015-16. With a weapon like Tarasenko in the lineup — and Steen and Stastny producing well — they’re still liable to break out at any time. The Leafs should know as they’ve had some ugly, ugly outings against Ken Hitchcock’s team in the past couple of seasons. The Blues remain one of the best possession teams in the League, as is tradition.
With just eight goals in their last six games, Babcock is switching up the Leafs‘ forward lines tonight. Holland is rotating into JvR’s spot on the Kadri and Komarov line, while JvR slides onto Bozak and Parenteau’s left wing and Matthias drops down next to Froese and Boyes.
It’s a nice opportunity for Holland, who has quietly restored a once-woebegone season since returning from his string of healthy scratches and shifting to the wing.
The Blues played 65 minutes of hockey last night in a shootout loss in New York, so the Leafs will be looking to take advantage of some tired legs.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lineup
James van Riemsdyk – Tyler Bozak – PA Parenteau
Peter Holland – Nazem Kadri – Leo Komarov
Michael Grabner – Nick Spaling – Daniel Winnik
Shawn Matthias – Byron Froese – Brad Boyes
Jake Gardiner – Dion Phaneuf
Matt Hunwick – Morgan Rielly
Martin Marincin – Roman Polak
Injured: Joffrey Lupul (lower body), Stephane Robidas (groin), James Reimer (lower body)
Scratched: Frank Corrado
St Louis Blues Projected Lineup
Jori Lehtera – Paul Stastny – Vladimir Tarasenko
Alexander Steen – David Backes – Troy Brouwer
Dmitrij Jaskin – Scott Gomez – Robby Fabbri
Steve Ott – Kyle Brodziak – Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester – Alex Pietrangelo
Kevin Shattenkirk – Colton Parayko
Carl Gunnarsson – Robert Bortuzzo
Injured: Jaden Schwartz (ankle), Patrik Berglund (shoulder)
Scratched: Scottie Upshall, Magnus Paajarvi, Joel Edmundson