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Buffalo Sabres forward William Carrier (48) collides with Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Anderson (31) during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, March 25, 2017, in Buffalo, N.Y. (Jeffrey T. Barnes/AP)
Buffalo Sabres forward William Carrier (48) collides with Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Anderson (31) during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, March 25, 2017, in Buffalo, N.Y. (Jeffrey T. Barnes/AP)

Leafs Nation agonizes over Andersen’s suspected head injury Add to ...

There really is no such thing as a charmed life in the NHL.

Sooner or later, in a violent game played at speed, the injury bug will get you. The only prevention is enough depth on the roster to replace the injured party and proceed as best you can.

So naturally, when it looks as though the Toronto Maple Leafs may finally have to deal with a significant injury, it is at the position they can stand it the least – goaltender.

Even worse, the Leafs took Sunday off, leaving Leafs Nation an extra day to twist itself into agony over the state of goaltender Frederik Andersen’s health.

After Saturday’s 5-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres, during which Andersen left the game after the first period with a suspected head injury, Leafs head coach Mike Babcock refused to say anything about Andersen. He said no further information on Andersen would come until after the Leafs’ practice on Monday, following an expected examination of the goaltender on Sunday by the Leafs’ medical team.

“Well, I’m not doing that because I don’t speculate about stuff,” Babcock said. “We’ll deal with what I know and you guys can get paid to speculate. You guys do that.”

“You guys,” of course, are the media.

On the plus side of Andersen’s chances of playing in Tuesday’s game against the Florida Panthers, or at the very least missing a minimal number of games, was the fact he was seen leaving the arena in Buffalo on Saturday night under his own steam. There was no obvious big collision in the 20 minutes of hockey he did play but experience has shown this does not mean a concussion could not have occurred. The Hockey Night In Canada television cameras picked up a couple of hits that may have done the damage.

On the minus side, if the injury is indeed a concussion, it means Andersen, 27, could not pass the NHL’s concussion protocol after the first period. If so, this is not Andersen’s first one. He sustained a concussion on April 1, 2016, while playing for the Anaheim Ducks but he was only out of the lineup for nine days.

The suspicion the injury is concussion-related is based on Babcock’s remarks after the game about how Andersen came to be replaced by backup goaltender Curtis McElhinney. “Obviously the other team’s doctor thought he should come out of the game, so he came out of the game,” Babcock said. “So once our doctor has seen him [Sunday] then I’ll have a better handle on what’s going on and I’ll be able to tell you.”

Under the NHL’s concussion protocol for the 2016-17 season, there are certified athletic trainers serving as spotters for every game. They watch games from the league’s Player Safety Room at the head office in New York. There are also spotters at each arena, who are in communication with their counterparts in New York, although the call to medical staff at the game to remove a player has to come from the New York office.

All of the spotters have received training in identifying concussion symptoms.

The spotters are on the lookout for four signs after a player takes a direct or indirect blow to the head. If the player “clutches his head” and/or is “slow to get up” after a collision, or has co-ordination or balance problems, or has a blank look, are three of the signs.

The other is “lying motionless on the ice.”

Andersen was involved in two collisions with two Sabres forwards during the first period of Saturday’s game. He banged heads with William Carrier and in the other one, Evander Kane fell on him, although most of the impact appeared to be with Andersen’s shoulder. The Hockey Night cameras showed Andersen shaking his head after the Kane hit.

The Sabres doctor Babcock referred to could have been a spotter at the game and could have made the call to remove Andersen after communications with the spotters in New York. Leafs doctor Noah Forman was not at the game, which means the major medical decisions are made by the host team’s doctor. This is not unusual for NHL teams during the regular season. Many only have a doctor with the team full-time on the road during the playoffs.

While Babcock admitted he was as surprised as everyone else when Andersen was pulled from the game, he did not second-guess a decision made by the opposing team’s doctor. “No. Don’t read into anything,” he said.

The problem for the Leafs is there is no replacement equal to Andersen. While McElhinney has had his moments as the backup – the three goals he allowed on Saturday not being any of them – his résumé as a No. 1 is thin. Garret Sparks, 23, is playing well for the Leafs’ Toronto Marlies farm team and is expected to get the call if Andersen can’t play. But his .893 save percentage in 17 games last season with the Leafs hardly inspires confidence.

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