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Maple Leafs' Sparks to make NHL debut vs. Oilers

by Mike Brophy

OILERS (8-14-2) at MAPLE LEAFS (7-11-5)

TV: TVA Sports, SN

TORONTO -- Garret Sparks will make his NHL debut in goal for the Toronto Maple Leafs when they host the Edmonton Oilers at Air Canada Centre on Monday.

Sparks, 22, was recalled from Toronto of the American Hockey League on Saturday to replace an injured James Reimer in the lineup. He was the backup to Jonathan Bernier as Toronto lost 4-2 to the Washington Capitals.

Sparks is 8-2-1 with a 1.90 goals-against average, .938 save percentage and two shutouts in 11 games. His save percentage is second in the AHL and his GAA is fourth.

"I'm excited," said Sparks, a seventh-round pick (No. 190) at the 2011 NHL Draft. He has split the past two seasons between Toronto of the AHL and Orlando of the ECHL. He was the AHL Player of the Week for the week ending Nov. 8. "I have been playing hockey for a long time and this is the coolest thing that has come of it yet so I am very excited. I'm just trying to stay composed so I can play my game tonight and do the things that got me here."

This time a year ago Sparks said he was playing for Orlando and said he did not envision playing in the NHL.

"Those are the kind of thoughts you have to block out," he said. "You just do your job every day and see where it takes you."

Sparks said he believes he is a better goalie for having experienced the ups and downs of playing in the minor leagues.

"I like to think I am a more well-rounded, better version of myself," he said.

Toronto coach Mike Babcock said his expectations of a goaltender making his NHL debut are no different than what he would expect from any other goalie.

"He's got an opportunity like lots of kids have had before him and it's up to him to grab it," Babcock said. "He's got the [second-best] save percentage in the AHL and he's winning all the time down there. Obviously we're in need of some saves and we'll have to play well in front of him for sure. But it's an opportunity for him."

The Maple Leafs have lost three straight (0-2-1) while the Oilers are coming off a 3-2 shootout win against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday. Monday is the final game of their five-game road trip; they're 1-2-1 so far on the trip.

Oilers coach Todd McLellan said a victory against the Maple Leafs would help raise the spirits of his players.

"It would put a win in the win column which is obviously important and a goal of ours every night," McLellan said. "But to come home .500 on a pretty tough road trip considering we didn't win the first two games would be an accomplishment we'd be pleased with. We wouldn't have a parade but we'd be pleased. I think it is something we can grow on."

McLellan said he has been pleased with his players' effort during the trip.

"We have played some really good games," McLellan said. "We just haven't had a timely goal or a timely prevent of a goal to get us more wins than losses. We have to identify what is the root cause of the one-goal loss. You don't find the same pattern game to game, but over time you do."

Here are the projected lineups:


Taylor Hall - Leon Draisaitl - Jordan Eberle

Lauri Korpikoski - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Teddy Purcell

Benoit Pouliot - Mark Letestu - Matt Hendricks

Luke Gazdic - Anton Lander - Iiro Pakarinen

Darnell Nurse - Andrej Sekera

Oscar Klefbom - Justin Schultz

Mark Fayne - Eric Gryba

Anders Nilsson

Cam Talbot

Injured: Nail Yakupov (ankle), Connor McDavid (clavicle), Rob Klinkhammer (lower body)

Scratched: Andrew Ference, Jujhar Khaira, Justin Schultz, Brandon Davidson


James van Riemsdyk - Nazem Kadri - Leo Komarov

Shawn Matthias - Tyler Bozak - PA Parenteau

Peter Holland - Byron Froese - Brad Boyes

Michael Grabner - Nick Spaling - Daniel Winnik

Jake Gardiner - Dion Phaneuf

Matt Hunwick - Morgan Rielly

Martin Marincin - Roman Polak

Garret Sparks

Jonathan Bernier

Injured: Stephane Robidas (groin), James Reimer (lower body), Joffrey Lupul (undisclosed)

Scratched: Frank Corrado

Status report: McLellan said he likely would go with the same lineup he used in the victory against Pittsburgh on Saturday. He gave his team the day off in Toronto on Sunday. … Winnik will return to the Maple Leafs lineup after not dressing the previous two games.

Who's hot: Purcell has assists in two straight games and points in five of the past seven games. … Sekera has one goal and one assist in the last two games. … Phaneuf has three assists in the past two games. … Van Riemsdyk has a goal and four points in his past five games. … Komarov has goals in back-to-back games.

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