Leafs' third-string goalie Hutchinson rewarded with 3rd straight start
No. 1 Frederik Andersen progressing from injury, forward Hyman returns to full practice
Asked where he'd like to see improvement in the second half of the season, Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock said one area would be the health of his team and making sure everyone is on the same page.
And that, quite frankly, begins in the crease.
"It probably exceeded [expectations] in some ways," Babcock said of his club's 27-12-2 record through 41 games. "We did lots of really good things."
The Leafs sit tied with the Calgary Flames — Toronto has two games in hand — for second in the NHL's overall standings, 10 points back of the Tampa Bay Lightning, who just happen to be their Atlantic Division rivals.
"We're looking forward to the second half and we've just got to keep getting better," Babcock said following Sunday's practice. "Getting everybody up to speed is the No. 1 priority for us — right from our goaltending, to our back end, to our players up front."
Second full practice
Andersen went through his second full practice Sunday as he continues to work back from a groin injury that bothered him most of December.
"When it didn't, it wasn't alarming, but it was something we needed to take care of before it got out of hand."
Sparks, meanwhile, joined the group for some light drills after suffering a concussion following consecutive shots off the mask from a teammate in Wednesday's on-ice session.
William Nylander is believed to be the culprit.
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'No hard feelings'
"It was cumulative," Sparks said. "Both [shots] were the same individual. It's humorous, and it's not. He feels bad. It's never happened before so I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt.
"Never in a million years would he try to do something like that to me [on purpose]. No hard feelings."
Sparks didn't have sensitivity to light in the wake of the concussion, but also wasn't himself.
Sparks, who has never had a concussion at any level, said he regrets not immediately letting trainers know he was feeling off before the second shot rattled his cage.
"This is my first time going through something like that," he said. "The more I evaluated how I felt as the day went on, I started to realize things weren't getting any better."
Andersen and Sparks were in the dressing room following Saturday's win waiting to congratulate Hutchinson, who has been thrust into the spotlight after being acquired from Florida on Dec. 29 in a move aimed at shoring up Toronto's depth.
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A veteran of more than 100 NHL games, the Barrie, Ont., native was toiling in the American Hockey League and unsure of where his career would go next prior to the deal that shipped him to Toronto.
"It's never fun watching, but a game like [Saturday] night helps," Andersen said. "Hutch was great."
Rivals at the top of a number of goaltending categories in the AHL last season, Sparks said Hutchinson has already been a positive influence in his recovery.
"He's shared his experiences with head injuries and what he's done to come back," said Sparks, who is 6-2-1 with a .905 save percentage and 3.01 GAA. "I'm learning a lot from him just watching him play and his demeanour and how he carries himself."
The winger felt he was fine to play the following game, but was pulled out of the lineup by Toronto's medical staff after an MRI revealed the injury was more serious than previously thought.
"They're protecting you from yourself," Hyman said. "For me, I'll go out there and I'll play through whatever I can."
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