Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe held a media availability on Tuesday afternoon. The Flames held a full skate at Scotiabank Arena ahead of tonight’s game.
David Rittich will debut with his new team against his old team tonight as the Leafs and Flames face off for the final time this season.
”I had a conversation with Dave yesterday just to really get a sense where his head was at, being sensitive to the circumstances, but he didn’t hesitate at all,” said coach Sheldon Keefe. “He wanted to play. I let him sleep on it and wanted to see how he arrived and make sure everything went smooth. He got a skate in and is excited to play so we’re going to get him in.”
Rittich hasn’t skated with his new teammates yet, but spent 20 minutes on the ice with Leafs goalie coach Steve Briere this morning. The Czech native already has a new Leafs design for his mask and blue accents on his pads. He was still using his red glove and blocker and will continue to wear the No. 33.
It’s been a wild few days for the 28-year-old, who was traded on Sunday night and then flew on Calgary’s charter plane to Toronto on Monday.
“There was definitely some fun happening there in terms of pokes and jabs,” said smiling Flames winger Milan Lucic. “You don’t ever experience something like that, you know, flying with an ex-teammate or someone on another team. It was kind of nice and cool to have him around for a little bit there and be able to properly say goodbye.”
The undrafted Rittich started 118 games for the Flames over the last four seasons and was a popular teammate.
“He’s pretty loud in the room,” noted Flames centre Mikael Backlund. “Definitely will be noticed that he’s not there. He likes to talk and joke around and all that type of stuff so his presence will be missed in that regard … with this quick turnaround it will be weird, for sure.”
Does Backlund have a good idea what move will work if he gets a chance on Rittich tonight?
“Yeah,” he said with a smile. “We’ve practised a lot together so he knows what I like to do and what I normally do and I know what he normally does.”
Rittich last played on April 4 when he allowed four goals on 30 shots in a loss to the Leafs.
Jason Spezza was the only other Toronto player on the ice this morning. At one point the veteran forward could be heard laughing and telling Rittich, “So, this has been a good building for ya!”
Rittich is 4-7-1 with a .904 save percentage this season, but has posted a .962 save percentage in three games at Scotiabank Arena.
“He’s had some great games against us so that’s definitely what stands out,” Auston Matthews noted. “I’ve heard great things about him.”
With Frederik Andersen sidelined due to a nagging lower-body injury, general manager Kyle Dubas felt it was necessary to add a goalie at the deadline to improve the team’s depth. Jack Campbell has played really well, but missed time with a leg injury, which remains a concern.
Campbell is also starting to cool off a bit (13 goals against in the last four games) and was really hard on himself after losing for the first time this season on Monday night.
“The guys deserved a win,” Campbell stated glumly in Montreal. “Pretty embarrassed by my effort, to be honest. Just not good enough. Cost us the game. I’ll think about the game, analyze it, learn what I did wrong, which was a quite a bit.”
Campbell will dress as the backup goalie tonight.
Lucic led the stretch and got stick taps at the end of the Flames morning skate as he gets set to appear in game No. 1,000 in his NHL career.
“This is the first time I kind of had nerves in a pre-game skate in a pretty long time,” the 32-year-old admitted with a grin. “There’s still that little kid inside of you.”
Lucic tweeted a picture this morning of his daughters wearing special jackets to commemorate the occasion.
“That’s all my wife Brittany,” Lucic said. “She designed that. It turned out pretty cool the way she was able to get all the teams on one sleeve and the flags on the other sleeve with the 1,000 on the back. This is probably the biggest thing I’ve achieved since having my own family so it’s pretty special that I get to share this with my wife and three kids.”
— Milan Lucic (@27MilanLucic) April 13, 2021
The Leafs have converted on just one of 36 power-play chances in the last 15 games while allowing three shorthanded goals in that stretch.
How much of the issue right now is between the ears?
“I’d say about 100 per cent,” Keefe quipped after Toronto went 0-for-2 in Montreal on Monday night. “Special teams really could have been the difference. They were plus-1.”
“I just think it’s execution,” said net-front presence Zach Hyman. “We’ve got to get back to keeping it simple and – as simple as it sounds – getting pucks towards the net and creating chaos and outnumbering them at the net. I think we’re a confident group. We’ve got elite, elite players so it’s just a matter of time.”
During this dry spell, the Leafs’ lone man-advantage marker came in Calgary on April 5.
Nick Robertson returned to the NHL on Monday night, playing his first game with the Leafs since Jan. 16 when he sustained a knee injury in Ottawa.
“I felt pretty good,” the left winger said. “It was definitely good to be back with the guys. I was trying to find my rhythm. I had a lot of fun.”
With the Leafs trailing most of the night, Robertson logged only eight minutes and 11 seconds while playing primarily on a line with Pierre Engvall and Wayne Simmonds.
“He did great,” said Keefe. “He moved his feet and he competed. He was hard on the puck. For a guy playing his first full NHL game here this season I thought he did a nice job for us. I didn’t get him out there a whole lot once we were really chasing the game, but I was happy with his effort.”
Robertson was plagued by a groin issue in training camp even before the knee injury. He has also missed time this season with an oblique problem.
“It was definitely a mental grind, but it’s a blessing in disguise,” he said. “I’m 19 and it’s something I should go through now … The game is all about highs and lows and I need to learn how to handle it.”
Robertson has produced three goals and seven assists in 14 games with the Marlies this season and feels like his game is developing nicely.
“Just a little more confident,” he said. “Down in the American League, it’s a little more run and gun. It’s a really tough league and I think I developed my positioning away from the puck.”
Robertson has been inspired by the success of older brother Jason Robertson, who has 27 points in 35 games with the Dallas Stars this season.
“I get so fired up when I wake up and I see he’s got a point or his team’s doing well. I know he’s putting in the work. People are starting to see what he can really do, but I’ve seen it since Day 1. I love him. I talk to him all the time. I know he was excited for me when I told him I was in the [Leafs] lineup and he gave me some advice.”
“It’s really special.”
— Dallas Stars (@DallasStars) August 3, 2020
Lines at Flames morning skate:
Gaudreau – Lindholm – Tkachuk
Mangiapane – Monahan – Dube
Lucic – Backlund – Nordstrom
Leivo – Ryan – Ritchie
Giordano – Tanev
Hanifin – Andersson
Valimaki – Stone