Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas was adamant last week goaltending isn’t a concern.
With his No. 1 option out injured, and on the heels of another shaky performance from Toronto’s understudy, it might start to be as the clock ticks down towards the NHL trade deadline.
In the meantime, the Leafs’ potential short-term solution possesses just over 30 minutes of top-level experience with a showcase outdoor game right around the corner.
Jakob Chychrun scored his second goal of the night at 2:17 of overtime Thursday as the Arizona Coyotes downed Toronto 5-4 despite blowing a 4-1 lead in the third period.
Leafs starter Petr Mrazek had a performance to forget, allowing four goals on 12 shots before getting the hook.
Recalled on an emergency basis with No. 1 goalie Jack Campbell nursing a rib ailment for at least the next two weeks, rookie Erik Kallgren made seven saves in relief.
“That stuff takes the wind out of the sails,” Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said of Toronto being down 2-0 just over four minutes in thanks to two Mrazek howlers. “But our guys are pros ... credit to them and the effort they put forth in the third period.
“Didn’t lay down, kept pushing, had plenty of opportunities to win the hockey game.”
Alex Galchenyuk, with a goal and an assist, Travis Boyd and Christian Fischer also scored for Arizona (18-35-4). Scott Wedgewood made 34 saves for the red-hot Coyotes, who won their fourth straight.
Auston Matthews added to his NHL-leading total with the star centre’s 44th goal for Toronto (37-16-5). Alexander Kerfoot, with a goal and two assists, Pierre Engvall and William Nylander provided the rest of the offence. Nylander also added an assist for a two-point night.
Kallgren said he did his best not to think too much when Keefe motioned for him to get into the fray with Toronto down 4-1 in the second.
“A big moment for me,” said the Swede. “I was just trying to have fun.”
And Keefe sounded a lot like a coach willing to give Kallgren his first NHL start when the Leafs play the Buffalo Sabres at Hamilton’s Tim Hortons Field in Sunday’s Heritage Classic.
“He was great,” he said. “Calm, cool, collected, big saves.
“He looked pretty confident for a guy starting in those circumstances.”
Kallgren, meanwhile, wouldn’t bite when asked if the crease is there for the taking on a team that’s now allowed four goals or more in nine of its last 11 outings.
“I’m not going to overthink this,” he said. “I’m just going to go out there and be me.”
Chychrun scored the winner off a Matias Maccelli pass after it looked like Matthews was interfered with on the backcheck. And Toronto’s best player let the officials know it as the Coyotes celebrated.
“I felt what I felt,” Matthews said. “Nothing I can change.”
Kallgren robbed Shayne Gostisbehere earlier in overtime before Wedgewood did the same at the other end on Nylander.
The Leafs have designs on winning the Atlantic Division to avoid a first-round playoff matchup against either the Florida Panthers or Tampa Bay Lightning, but once again dropped points versus a team way down in the standings after also losing to the Montreal Canadiens and Buffalo in recent weeks.
“Sometimes maybe we don’t show enough respect or we’re just not ready to play,” Matthews said. “We dig ourselves in a hole that sometimes we can climb out of, sometimes we can’t.”
Down 4-1 through 40 minutes, Kerfoot scored his 10th at 3:38 of the third to get Toronto within two. Matthews then moved in alone and tucked home his 44th at 8:07 on a sequence that was allowed to continue before the buzzer at Scotiabank Arena sounded to halt play.
Nylander tied it just 10 seconds later when he slid his 23rd through Wedgewood to send the crowd into another frenzy as Toronto scored three times in a span of 4:39.
“Battled back, got a point, but just not good enough from the start,” Matthews said. “We didn’t get playing until the third period.”
Coyotes winger Phil Kessel, who suited up for six seasons with the Leafs, was in the lineup after arriving in Toronto earlier in the day following the birth of his first child.
The 34-year-old played one shift in Tuesday’s 9-2 thrashing of the Detroit Red Wings to keep his ironman streak intact – it now stands at 957 straight contests – before jumping on a charter flight back to Arizona.
“Pretty crazy,” Kessel said. “Thought she was gonna have a kid before I got there.”
Poised for a run of games with Campbell sidelined, Mrazek spilled Riley Nash’s long-range shot off his blocker for Galchenyuk, who played for Toronto last season, to bang home for his fifth at 2:09 of the opening period.
“Didn’t help the team,” Mrazek said. “That’s an easy first save.
“Should go in the corner and the game would be different.”
Mrazek’s night got worse 2:12 later when Chychrun’s fanned shot on an odd-man rush somehow dribbled over the goal-line past the out-of-position, stick-less netminder.
An even 40 points back of the Leafs heading into play, the Coyotes had scored a combined 17 times in their two previous games, but still ranked 30th in goals.
The visitors made it 3-0 just 68 seconds into the second when Boyd – another ex-Leaf – banked a shot in off Toronto defenceman Timothy Liljegren.
Nick Schmaltz picked up an assist on the play for his 12th point in the last three games for the Coyotes, who also beat Toronto 2-1 on Jan. 12 and swept the season series.
Engvall got the Leafs on the board at 4:55 when he banged home his 10th, but Fischer ripped his fifth past Mrazek’s ear at 11:57 to make it 4-1.
That prompted Keefe to go to Kallgren, a 2015 seventh-round pick of the Coyotes.
“I wanted to do it after two [goals],” Keefe said of the switch. “I thought it’s a tough position to put Kallgren in. When you give up the first two like that, you can’t give up three and four.
“At that point, I think it was obvious we needed to change.”
The 25-year-old was met with warm applause from a crowd of 17,351 simply looking for a save, and he got a nice cheer on his first NHL stop moments later to help set the stage for a wild third and OT.
“Love the fight in our team,” Keefe said. “Love the performance by Erik Kallgren.
“We’re just going to have to push by this one.”
And then decide on Sunday’s starting goalie.