|Toronto Maple Leafs' Jay Rosehill and Sabres' Cody McCormick duke it out during the first period. (Jack Boland/Sun Media)
BUFFALO — He may be the forgotten netminder in Maple Leafs training camp, but Joey MacDonald was ready to jar some memories Wednesday night.
The pride of Pictou, N.S., got a chance to state his case at HSBC Arena, playing a solid 60 minutes in the Leafs’ 3-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres.
With questions surrounding the health of Jonas Gustavsson, MacDonald isn’t out of the running to back up Vesa Toskala when the regular season begins against Montreal a week from Thursday.
“It’s kind of been like that my whole career — from Detroit, to Boston, to New York,” said MacDonald, a quiet off-season acquisition to add to the Leafs’ depth in net. “It doesn’t matter who they have, a young kid or an old guy. You’ve got to come in and challenge.”
MacDonald did just that in an at-times spectacular first period, kicking aside 18 Buffalo shots. The Sabres pushed three pucks by him in the second, but there wasn’t a truly bad goal in the bunch.
After entering camp the clear No. 3, MacDonald at least has his foot in the door given the minor heart surgery to Gustavsson, which has afforded management little time to evaluate the Swedish netminder known as the Monster.
“Joey played well,” Leafs coach Ron Wilson said after his team fell to 4-2 in a hectic pre-season. “We’ll get Jonas a couple of periods on the weekend and then we’ll make a decision.”
It’s getting to that point in camp. By the pre-season finale on Sunday, Wilson hopes to have a lineup that will closely resemble the one he will submit opening night.
“There are seven or eight people we really have to discuss here,” Wilson said. “We don’t know where (injured players Jamal Mayers, Jeff Finger and Mike Van Ryn) are going to be. That may be a stay of execution (for some). We’ll address that on the weekend.”
MacDonald, meanwhile, says Leafs camp has been a huge boost for his career working under the tutelage of new goalie coach Francois Allaire. The 29-year-old hopes that will help bring some stability to what so far has been a journeyman career.
“The last week and a half, I can see a huge improvement,” said MacDonald, who played a career-high 49 games for the Islanders last season. “That’s why I’m here — to fight for the No. 1 and No. 2 job and play in the NHL. I got a taste of it last year and once you get that, you want to stay up.
“I’ve just got to make the coach’s and GM’s job tough.”
The ragged effort by the Leafs, who were outshot 18-5 in the first period, included some serious line juggling by Wilson. For much of the night, he had the so-called Frat Line of Tyler Bozak, Christian Hanson and Viktor Stalberg separated, though they were reunited in the third period.
“I think they’ve slowed down quite a bit,” Wilson said of the line of NCAA college grads. “They’re just swimming, trying to survive training camp, let along make our team.”
Nathan Paetsch, Jochen Hecht and Cody McCormick scored for the Sabres. Jiri Tlusty (on a penalty shot) and John Mitchell (on a feed from top pick Nazem Kadri) replied for the Leafs.