COLUMBUS, Ohio – Mike Babcock has faced 38 sets of back-to-back matches since Frederik Andersen became number 1 goalkeeper in the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Before Friday night, Andersen started the first match of all 37 times.
That the routine was changed with Garret Sparks getting a call at Nationwide Arena – making 26 saves in the 4-2 Leafs victory over Columbus – is a reflection of the feeling within the organization that the reserve needs to see more action on the stretch.
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Andersen has appeared in 66 matches in the regular season, each of the last two seasons and is currently racing for the same number of matches again. That is no longer the type of work you usually see from goal scorer. 1 that lifts the Stanley Cup every June, with no one seeing more than 60 starting immediately before winning the championship since Jonathan Quick in 2012.
The Leafs, in theory, must have plenty of free time to start giving Andersen more rest.
They have accumulated many points with a 25-10-2 start which is among the best in the history of the franchise.
Sparks can help his own struggle by holding the fort as he did with the Blue Jacket – a development that will make Babcock easier to realize this plan. The 25-year-old was solid in Friday's victory after allowing Nick Foligno's shot to pass before the match was five minutes old.
He recovered from there, allowing only one late from Artemi Panarin to beat him, and increasing his personal record to 6-1-1 this season.
Sparks can usually rely on strong support goals. John Tavares scored twice before the first break on Friday and then Mitch Marner finished 2-on-1 with Auston Matthews, taking his third point in the process.
Frederik Gauthier spent a beautiful pass from teammate Par Lindholm in the third period, giving him a goal in two consecutive matches.
The Leafs will return on Saturday when the Islanders visit Toronto for the first time since Tavares signed a $ 77 million free agent contract on July 1.
Andersen is expected to start for the first time Hockey Night in Canada. But he will see his partner playing a little more after that, assuming everything goes according to plan.