The are few story-lines lazier in hockey than the goaltender controversy. It’s essentially just the guy who wasn’t the opening night starter isn’t the best goaltender on the team anymore. That’s the situation for the Leafs as they have Jack Campbell now sitting at an incredible 15-2-1 record with a .927 save percentage, while Frederik Andersen has struggled with injuries and before that, consistency. Potentially the Leafs have two good goaltenders, and that’s called depth or options, not a controversy.
In the spirit of creating a goaltending controversy we asked the TLN contributors who would be their opening night starter. The answers are somewhat expected, but perhaps the expanded answers give a bit more context to how much we’d stick with our choice, or how we feel about Plan B, C, and D.
So here is who should start game one of the playoffs…
Jack Campbell. He is the more game-ready goalie and the guy that has played the best out of all the options up to this point. How long he keeps the crease in the playoffs depends on his performance because I imagine they would like to get Frederik Andersen into a game at some point. They could do what the Penguins did in 2016 and 2017 where they ride the hot goalie and switch once one of them loses a game. That way it keeps them both motivated to want to keep the net for as long as possible and it gives the Leafs a netminder that will do whatever it takes to win.
Jack Campbell is the starter now and in the playoffs. In my opinion, nothing about Frederik Andersen’s performance, both in this season and in any of the playoff rounds he’s been in as a Leaf inspire any confidence that he’ll be able to win a meaningful game for them. Add in the fact that he will not have played in 2 months (barring major salary cap shenanigans) and there’s no other conclusion to draw other than Andersen has lost his job as the #1 guy. I have confidence in Campbell despite his lack of playoff experience, and in my eyes, he only loses the net if he goes through an Andersen-esque collapse (think the 7-3 Game 2 loss to Boston in 2018).
Honestly, I’m good with either goaltender. Frederik Andersen has a lot to prove. He wants to be the guy for the Leafs. Jack Campbell has played incredible for Toronto this season. I think what Sheldon Keefe needs to do is pick one guy — either Andersen or Campbell. If the goaltender has a bad game, looks shaky or anything like that, you switch. I do believe with Andersen playing with something to prove, he may be the better goalie. But again, he doesn’t have the games played like Campbell down the stretch. Either or, I’m good with whoever Keefe puts in to start game one.
I think Jack Campbell definitely gets the Game 1 start at this point, considering both his play and the fact that Andersen hasn’t played a game in a month and a half. That said, to compare it to previous Cup winners, I wouldn’t be shocked if this is a similar situation to the 2017 Pens or the 2018 Caps.
The Caps went with Grubauer to start those playoffs, and found themselves down 0-2 in the series before going back to Holtby. If Campbell has a couple bad games, and the Leafs find themselves down 0-2 or even 1-1, they might look back to Fred. The Pens started Fleury because of Murray’s injury, and ran Fleury for a while until he struggled against the Senators and they went back to Murray, so even later in the playoff run, they could always go back to Fred if Campbell struggles.
Regardless, it gives them an extra weapon in the crease if one of them struggles during the playoffs.
I’d go with the wildcard, David Rittich. Sike. I’m prone to hot takes, but I’m not stupid. I’d absolutely go with Jack Campbell who has been the better goaltender, has been a better goaltender beyond anything that Andersen has given the Leafs over his time in Toronto, and going with the hot hand in net is how you win championships. The Leafs best chance at success comes with Campbell in net.
That said, I’d purposely give Andersen Game Two to get his feet wet, get in him goal when either the Leafs need him (following a loss) or when he doesn’t have the potential to negatively impact the series too much. The biggest concern with Campbell is that he hasn’t been “the guy” in net for a long stretch and has had more breaks in between his starts than most goaltenders. The Leafs might need to rely on Andersen to be able to play as well, and Game Two starts are a way of doing that. It’s also worth noting that Andersen has had a 3-1-0 record against Montreal this year with a .912 save percentage, and he did even better against the Oilers. If he’s healthy, he does seem capable against two of the three North Division opponents, it’s just the Jets we’d have to worry about.
So there you have it. Not really a goaltending controversy, instead a vote of confidence for Jack Campbell who seemed to just have three tough games in a row and then got over it. Let us know who you’d start and how you’d approach the workload in the comments below.