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Leafs Forced to use Three Second-Stringers in John Tavares’ Return to Long Island

Injury and scheduling has forced Toronto to use two backup defenders and second-string goalie due to injury and late-season scheduling

Jake Gardiner – Out, Travis Dermott – Out, Frederick Andersen – resting. Thing’s are a little lean on the back end for the Toronto Maple Leafs as they visit Tavares’ old home in Long Island.

New Third Pair

Ahead of the second game in the back-to-back the Leafs are shuffling their defensive lines a little more and mixing in players as much as they can it would seem. Martin Marincin has been called up to pair with Justin Holl as the bottom two for the Leafs defense.

It’s an interesting move for Mike Babcock, to not pair each new player off with a veteran, but rather pair them together. I understand, however, the desire to keep your greenest defenders on a pair that you can minute-manage for the entirety of the game.

The Gardiner injury saw Igor Ozhiganov return to the lineup after a months absence and he played well. Ozhiganov finished with an empty stat line and 15:08 if ice time. While underwhelming, it’s a positive; Igor showed he can seamlessly return to the team and put in a solid effort.

Justin Holl

Ozhiganov did well, but there is no need to rush him into what looks to be a high intensity back-to-back. Justin Holl, the Leafs OTHER extra defenseman will get the right-side duties tonight on the bottom pairing.

Holl impressed last season after getting called up and scoring in back-to-back games from the blue line. He impressed in those two games with the two goals and, more importantly, his +5 rating in that stretch.

There is a possible problem with injecting Holl into the lineup tonight. That issue is rust. Holl has played in just 2 NHL games this season and due to having waivers attached to him, has had no AHL games to keep him in game shape.

I would have liked to have seen Holl in the first game against Edmonton in Gardiner’s absence but that’s only due to the hindsight gained after the Dermott injury. Holl will have a tired team in front of him but no doubt they’ll be motivated for JT.

Martin Marincin

I’m seriously impressed that Martin Marincin is still a Maple Leaf right now. He played a big part in the Leafs’ playoff defensive woes last season and offers little to nothing from the back. This begs the question: why is Marincin getting the call up?

Let’s be honest here, Marincin is in because Calle Rosen is injured.

The Leafs did have Marincin on the roster earlier this season. Once Ennis returned from injury, however, there was no roster space available for him and he was waived. Despite my crossed fingers, Marincin (and his gaudy $700,000 contract) wasn’t claimed by anyone and he’s been in the AHL since.

In his 10 games with the Leafs this season, Marincin has chipped in 2 assists with a -1 rating. In his 8 AHL games, he has 1 goal and 3 assists for a 0+/-.

Scheduled Sparks gets the Start

As is tradition this season, Garret Sparks gets the start for the Leafs second game in the back-to-back. It’s good for Sparks to get into a game that will have a playoff-like intensity, providing him meaningful NHL hockey experience while still in the regular season.

There is little to no pressure on Sparks, whose job is basically to take whatever the opposition throws at him. He’s tasked with playing and knowing there is little to no chance of Frederick Andersen coming off the bench to relieve him.

Sparks hasn’t looked the most steady in net this season, but his stats show he’s doing a fine job as a backup. Throughout his 13 games played this season, Sparks is 7-3 with a .908% save percentage and GAA of 2.86.

He’s improved on his numbers in 15/16 when he first came up which is terrific. The next step in Sparks’ development is to learn how to stay more composed in net, which he can absorb from Andersen’s style of play.

It’ll be a tough game, regardless of Toronto’s bottom pairing and backup goaltender getting the start. Hopefully, the added pressure on the Leafs to come together for Tavares can inspire a solid performance.

3 comments on “Leafs Forced to use Three Second-Stringers in John Tavares’ Return to Long Island

  1. The good news last night was that Ozhiganov was not noticed much. Meant that he wasn’t out of place. Nothing fancy

    • Adam Smith

      Exactly right from you. A quiet night is a good night, no glaring errors, and if you get on the scoresheet its a bonus!

  2. Pingback: Islanders Fans Determined to Prove how Stupid a Fan Base can be in Tavares' Returns - The Rival Sports

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