There’s still a goalie question, but the Leafs will give Petr Mrázek another shot in Hamilton
HAMILTON Petr Mrázek will be battling more than just his confidence when he starts in goal for the Maple Leafs in Sunday’s Heritage Classic game against Buffalo.
Mrázek will also have to battle with elements, if Saturday’s practice at Tim Hortons Field is any indication.
“It’s not going to be a normal NHL hockey game. It’s different, the conditions may change from shift to shift, or period to period,” Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. “So, we have to focus on playing as a team, have some fun with this event and embrace everything that it is. At this same time, recognize two points are at stake and keep that in mind, and go out and do the best that we can …
“Petr is no different than the rest of the team.”
Mrázek and the Leafs got their first taste of the icy conditions at Tim Hortons Field. For a goalie, who stands in net without action for stretches of the game, those conditions could have the biggest impact.
Goalies have talked about how the cold affects their equipment at past outdoor games, including Montreal’s Jose Theodore, who participated in the very first one at Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium in 2003. Theodore said at the time that his ability to control rebounds was affected because his pads froze.
The Heritage Classic is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Sunday, with the forecast calling for clouds, wind and sub-zero temperatures.
The wind certainly affected the Leafs during line rushes and other practice drills Saturday.
“We were out there and the wind was blowing your stick,” Leafs winger William Nylander said. “You couldn’t control your stick. We’ve never played a game where the wind had an effect.”
Keefe and the rest of the Leafs will look to Mrázek to respond after Thursday’s loss to the Arizona Coyotes, during which he was pulled in the second period after allowing four goals on 12 shots.
With goalie Jack Campbell sidelined the same day with a rib injury, it was a chance for Mrázek to face a non-playoff team and prove he can be relied on by a Leafs team trying to climb higher than third place in the Atlantic Division.
There was uncertainty surrounding the goalie situation following that Arizona game. Keefe said Erik Källgren — who made his NHL debut in relief of Mrázek — calmed the team down to the point where they were able to come back from a three-goal deficit and force overtime.
In the end, Keefe still gave the nod to Mrázek for the Heritage Classic. It was a decision based on experience.
Mrázek has played 291 NHL games, with 10 wins this season. He also played in an outdoor game with the Detroit Red Wings against the Colorado Avalanche at Denver’s Coors Field in 2016 — a 5-3 Detroit win.
The Leafs acknowledge that some of the blame for recent losses to non-playoff teams has been the result of poor team defence. They still believe in Mrázek.
“I think we just have to be ready to play from the start,” Leafs centre Auston Matthews said. “The other night (against Arizona), it took us a little bit to get into the game. We have to be solid, play with poise, play with confidence.
“We know (Mrázek) is going to play with confidence; that’s just the type of guy he is. I don’t think stuff like this really rattles him. He wants to be better — he wants to be a great goaltender for us — and there’s no doubt in any of our minds that he’s going to bounce back.”