November 30, 2015
TORONTO – As Garret Sparks gets set to make his NHL debut Monday night against the Oilers, Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe has been left wondering what’s happening to Antoine Bibeau.
When Jonathan Bernier went down with an injury in late October, Bibeau got the call up to the Maple Leafs. At the time, Keefe had labelled the Victoriaville, Que., native the Marlies’ No. 1.
Bibeau, however, has struggled terribly since being sent back to the minors after Bernier returned while Sparks has been at the top of his game – leading to him being summoned when James Reimer went down early last week at practice.
Bibeau, selected 172nd overall in the 2013 Draft by Toronto, has left his coach puzzled with his recent play.
“Can’t quite get a finger on it, we felt he was in a pretty good groove,” Keefe said Saturday when asked what has troubled the 21-year-old goaltender.
Bibeau backed up Reimer with the Leafs from Nov. 3 to Nov. 11. The 22-year-old Sparks, meanwhile, used that opportunity with the Marlies to win AHL player-of-the-week honours.
Bibeau didn’t do himself any favours in his first start back with the Marlies, allowing eight goals against and getting yanked in a 9-8 win over St. John’s that Sparks picked up the victory in.
Since rejoining the Marlies, Bibeau has given up 22 goals in four starts. His goals-against average has jumped to 3.64 while his save percentage has plummeted to .869 – the lowest of any netminder to dress in at least 10 games this season.
The time spent with the big club was supposed to be a confidence booster for Bibeau. Instead, the lack of playing time while up there took him out of his flow, says his coach.
“Getting called up to the Leafs, that experience should be a positive one for him and he should bring that back to us, (it’s) great for his confidence,” said Keefe. “(But) it seems to have knocked him off a step a little bit and he has struggled to get it back.”
Bibeau allowed five goals against on Saturday in a 6-2 loss to the IceCaps, which didn’t impress a frustrated Keefe.
The Marlies played Friday night in Syracuse and elected to start ECHL call up Ryan Massa so that Bibeau could stay in Toronto and avoid the 4 a.m. bus ride back home. Keefe expected him to be ready to go by keeping him fresh for the 2 p.m. start.
“Another guy we thought we were setting up for success by leaving him (at home), letting him be prepared for the game,” said Keefe. “Made a few big saves but a few of those goals I’d think he’d like to have back.”
The Marlies and Bibeau dropped a 5-1 decision to the IceCaps on Sunday — the same day Leafs coach Mike Babcock announced Sparks would get the next start for Toronto over Bernier.
While Bibeau has watched his numbers sag below average, Sparks, who Toronto drafted 190th in 2011, has excelled. The Elmhurst, Ill., native has the top save percentage of any AHL goalie to play a minimum of 10 games at .938 while his 1.90 GAA is second best.