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Sparks to start for Maple Leafs against Blues

by Louie Korac

MAPLE LEAFS (8-13-5) at BLUES (15-7-4)


ST. LOUIS -- With an unusual break in the schedule, the Toronto Maple Leafs will go with young goalies Garret Sparks and Antoine Bibeau for the foreseeable future.

Sparks will play Saturday against the St. Louis Blues after James Reimer re-aggravated a lower-body injury that will keep him sidelined the next two games, according to Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock.

Reimer made 27 saves in a 1-0 loss to the Minnesota Wild on Thursday but the Maple Leafs recalled Bibeau from the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League on Friday to back up Sparks.

The Maple Leafs play Saturday, again on Wednesday and then don't play again until Dec. 15, and instead of bringing up Jonathan Bernier, who is on a conditioning assignment with the Marlies, the Maple Leafs have chosen for the time being to go with a duo that, until a week ago, was the goalie combo with the Marlies.

"We're fortunate in our schedule. We play today, then we play in a couple days, then we don't play again until the 15th," Babcock said. "In the meantime, you saw this morning, Sparks and Bibeau will carry the load for the Leafs.

"There's two guys there that's available to us the next two games and we'll do exactly what we did. We'll try to go through proper protocol with the trainers, with our medical science team, make the decision in the end. [Reimer] was shilling like crazy to play in Winnipeg (but) because of the Carey Price thing being through it already, we tried to be more diligent, we wanted to make sure he didn't spasm, we wanted to wait another day in the end. When you look back in hindsight, you always say, 'Gee, we wanted to give it more time.' But that's the problem with pro sports when you make that decision. In the end, the athlete's got to decide when he's ready to go and everyone thought he was ready to go and obviously he wasn't because he's back where he was."

Sparks, who is from Elmhurst, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, will make his third NHL start. He shut out the Edmonton Oilers in his first NHL start, a 3-0 win Nov. 30, but allowed six goals on 35 shots in a 6-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Dec. 2.

"Yeah, I'm pretty excited," Sparks said. "Pretty close to my hometown. Reasonably close. I'll have a bunch of family and friends in the stands. Looking forward to getting back at it and get another opportunity to play my game and play another hockey game here."

The Blues did not skate Saturday morning after a 2-1 shootout loss at the New York Islanders on Friday night.

St. Louis avoided another serious injury when defenseman Colton Parayko went down awkwardly on his right ankle and his knee hyperextended. Parayko came back after momentarily leaving the ice in the third period and finished the game. He was at the rink Saturday morning and was walking with no restrictions and is expected to play.

Goalie Jake Allen will start after Brian Elliott made 24 saves in the loss Friday.

Here are the projected lineups:


James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - PA Parenteau

Peter Holland - Nazem Kadri - Leo Komarov

Michael Grabner - Nick Spaling - Daniel Winnik

Shawn Matthias - Byron Froese - Brad Boyes

Jake Gardiner - Dion Phaneuf

Matt Hunwick - Morgan Rielly

Martin Marincin - Roman Polak

Garret Sparks

Antoine Bibeau

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

Scratched: Frank Corrado


Jori Lehtera - Paul Stastny - Vladimir Tarasenko

Alexander Steen - David Backes - Troy Brouwer

Dmitrij Jaskin - Scott Gomez - Robby Fabbri

Steve Ott - Kyle Brodziak - Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester - Alex Pietrangelo

Kevin Shattenkirk - Colton Parayko

Carl Gunnarsson - Robert Bortuzzo

Jake Allen

Brian Elliott

Injured: Jaden Schwartz (ankle), Patrik Berglund (shoulder)

Scratched: Scottie Upshall, Magnus Paajarvi, Joel Edmundson

Status report: The Maple Leafs shuffled their forward lines around Saturday in hopes of generating more offense. They're 1-4-1 in the past six games and have scored eight goals. "When you go through the scoring chances last game, we thought we did a lot of good things and limited our chances (against)," Babcock said. "We'd like to walk out of a building with a win, but we didn't. So when you look at those chances we're generating and they don't go in, we've got to find a way to score more and St. Louis doesn't want to give you very much." ... Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said whoever the three scratches would be Friday [Magnus Paajarvi, Scottie Upshall and Joel Edmundson], they'd play Saturday. Hitchcock will speak with reporters Saturday afternoon to confirm any lineup changes.

Who's hot: Steen, who was drafted by Toronto in 2002, has 10 points the past four games against the Maple Leafs. … Backes has eight points in the past four games against the Maple Leafs. … Shattenkirk has a point in nine of the past 10 games (three goals, eight assists).

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