October 29, 2015
TORONTO – Antoine Bibeau looks to be the goaltender who will carry the bulk of the work load this season with the Marlies.
Bibeau got the nod Wednesday night in a 3-1 loss against the Syracuse Crunch. It marked the first time that head coach Sheldon Keefe started the same netminder in consecutive games this season after Bibeau and Garret Sparks rotated the first seven contests.
After the game, Keefe said that Sparks starting three of those first seven games had more to do with scheduling and that the net, ultimately, belongs to the Victoriaville, Que. native.
“(Bibeau) to this point has played well, to me he’s a guy that played on this team last year, was in the net the last game the team played (last season) and there hasn’t been a reason to go away from him when the schedule dictates he’s had some time to rest,” said Keefe.
Toronto’s first seven games were laid out on back-to-back days, including three games in three days this past weekend, making it logical and quite common to switch starters every game.
Wednesday’s game, however, came three days after the Marlies’ last one on Sunday, in which Bibeau earned a 3-1 win against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
Last season, under then-head coach Gord Dineen, Bibeau and Christopher Gibson rotated almost every start right up through March while Sparks played in the ECHL. It was at that point that Bibeau’s play tailed off and Gibson’s picked up. The net became his for the homestretch and the beginning of the playoffs.
Gibson stumbled in the post-season and Dineen went to a cold Bibeau in an elimination game against the Griffins in the first round and got a 39-save performance in a 3-0 loss to Grand Rapids.
This past off-season Toronto assistant general manager Kyle Dubas said that the Marlies net would be Gibson’s to lose, but he was then traded to the New York Islanders along with four other players for Michael Grabner in September – leaving the crease open for the taking.
The 21-year-old Bibeau got the start on opening night, a 5-2 win against the Manitoba Moose.
Despite Keefe planning to give Bibeau the extra games when fresh, the Marlies will still play 25 more back-to-backs and eight sets of three-in-three, which means the 22-year-old Sparks will be given plenty of starts to try and steal the net away from his counterpart.
If Sparks begins to outplay Bibeau, then things could change and the net could become his. Neither goalie, though, has played above average or outplayed each other up to this point despite the Marlies being 5-3-0. At this rate it’s more likely Bibeau’s net to lose.
Being No. 1 on the Marlies also likely means No. 3 on the overall depth chart and the first to earn a call up to the NHL if the Maple Leafs are in need of a goaltender.
Bibeau, who the Maple Leafs drafted 172nd overall in 2013 out of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, is 4-1-0 in five starts with a 2.20 goals-against average and .908 save percentage.
Sparks, selected 190th in 2011 by Toronto from the Ontario Hockey League, is 1-2-0 with a 3.27 GAA and .896 save percentage in three starts.
Toronto’s next game is Friday at the Ricoh Coliseum against the Griffins. With a day off in between games, Keefe’s method would point towards another start for Bibeau.