TORONTO, ON -- Due to injuries and their position in the Eastern Conference standings, the Toronto Maple Leafs have been given an opportunity to test their young players at the NHL level.
The youthful roster boasts the likes of William Nylander, Connor Brown, Frederik Gauthier, Zach Hyman, Nikita Soshnikov, Connor Carrick, Frank Corrado, Josh Leivo, Viktor Loov, Rinat Valiev, and Garret Sparks -- all of whom are 23 years old or younger.
With an inexperienced lineup, there are definite learning curves but the youthful energy has been a bonus for the struggling club and on Saturday, it was the kids that led the way in a 4-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres.
Nylander, Carrick, and Soshnikov combined for four points in the victory while Sparks made 16 saves on the 17 shots he faced.
"You want guys playing with energy, you want guys playing with confidence and making plays and trying to do things," Carrick told TorontoMapleLeafs.com. "It’s fun to be a part of when other guys are doing that. It’s kind like of a silent vote of confidence for every other guy when you see a young guy carrying his weight in the game. You kind of think, ‘Hey, I’ve got to pick it up, I’ve got no excuse’ so it’s fun to be a part of."
While Sparks did pick up the win on Saturday, the Leafs are expected to turn to Jonathan Bernier in net on Monday when the Calgary Flames are in town.
The 27-year-old has a 9-19-3 record with a 2.92 GAA and a .905 save percentage this season.
Despite Saturday's victory, the Leafs were officially eliminated from playoff contention this weekend. While the team is understandably disappointed in their season, the coaching staff has been pleased with the atmosphere in the locker room.
"There’s way more excitement in the room when you’re going in the playoffs and you’re chasing the big silver trophy," coach Mike Babcock told the Toronto Sun. "That’s a lot more fun than this. In saying that, they are good players and they’re trying to get better."
Monday's match-up is the second and final game between the Flames and Leafs this season.
Calgary took the first contest back on Feb. 9, edging Toronto 4-3 at the Scotiabank Saddledome. Leivo, Peter Holland, and Jake Gardiner scored the Leafs. On the Flames side, Dougie Hamilton had a goal and an assist while Jonas Hiller made 33 saves on 36 shots.
BREAKING DOWN THE MAPLE LEAFS
Power Play: 14.6 percent overall (32 goals scored in 220 chances with the man advantage), 18.8 percent at home (21 goals scored in 112 chances with the man advantage)
Penalty Kill: 81 percent overall (44 goals allowed in 232 times being short-handed), 78.3 percent at home (23 goals allowed in 106 times being short-handed)
2015-16 Record vs. the Flames: 0-1-0
2014-15 Record vs. the Flames: 1-1-0
Notable Injuries: Stephane Robidas (lower body), Matt Hunwick (sports hernia), Byron Froese (hand), James van Riemsdyk (foot), Joffrey Lupul (sports hernia), Brad Boyes (shoulder), Tyler Bozak (upper body), Brad Boyes (upper body), Viktor Loov (upper body), Leo Komarov (lower body), Peter Holland (upper body)
Who's HOT: Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau
The veteran forward has been one of the Leafs most consistent point producers this season and has been their most dependable skater up front in recent games.
In his last four games, Parenteau has netted one goal and picked up four points. During that span, he has put seven shots on net and is a plus-four.
Honourable Mention: William Nylander
The Leafs' 2014 first round pick is coming off the strongest game of his young NHL career. In Saturday's 4-1 victory over the Sabres, Nylander scored a goal and an assist, which represents half of his points during his 11-game stint with the Leafs.
He was named the first star for his efforts.
"I think it’s coming every day," he told TorontoMapleLeafs.com after the win. "You start to find certain areas of the ice where you can make certain plays. It’s coming and it’s getting there."
Who's NOT: Nazem Kadri
The Leafs leading scorer has been decidedly cold as of late.
Kadri is pointless in his last five skates and has amassed a minus-three rating during that stretch. The 25-year-old has just three assists in his last 10 games and has been held to two or fewer shots in four of those outings.