It’s a controversy not experienced for a number of years. This time though, you’ll be unlikely to find too many angry tweets or hear many complaints out of Leaf Nation. There’s a goalie situation happening in Toronto.
I can’t deny, I’ve been critical of one Jonas Gustavsson, as lately as a month ago. And I really didn’t think the numbers lied. At that time, Jonas seemed lucky to have only a 4-4-0 record, much better than his 3.78GAA and .878sv% would have predicted. Leaf fans felt they’d seen this movie before. After all, when JS Giguere went down to injury in 2010-11, the Monster couldn’t manage much better than an overall 6-13-2 record, with a disappointing 3.90GAA and .890sv%, and he effectively lost his job to James Reimer. And I for one was sure Gustavsson was showing he was simply not up to it once Reimer was sidelined. Accordingly, I proposed Leaf brass had a decision to make… trade him, demote him, or let him wither.
I guess Jonas doesn’t care what I think, because there can be no doubt he’s given his bosses something else to think about. While Ben Scrivens showed he’s got a future as an NHL goalie, and reporters chased Reimer’s mom for a story, all the Monster did was post a 6 game record of 5-1-0, with an uncharacteristic 2.31GAA and .929sv%. Almost a goal and a half knocked off his goals against, and a full 50 points up on the save percentage compared to his first 9 appearances.
Absolutely, Gustavsson has been helped by the fact the Leafs are playing decent hockey. He benefit from back-to-back 7 goal outbursts against Washington and Tampa, and the Leaf powerplay has been a significant factor for the team. True, he hasn’t been impenetrable… not every goal he allowed was unstoppable. But even in another one-sided loss to Boston, Gus made some difficult saves, and held his team in until the third. He’s withstood flurries from the opposition, most recently in Madison Square Garden, where he’s the only goalie to beat the Rangers at home so far this season… and he’s done it twice.
Bottom line, specifically in his last 6 games, the Monster has done exactly what he was needed to do. The franchise is desperate to stay in the playoff chase, and he’s given his mates a chance to win. He’s still a bit scrambly in the crease, you gotta hold your breath a bit until the puck is out or covered. But regardless, it’s stayed out of the net for Jonas. He’s made the saves his team needs.
It’s no secret though that in most minds, Toronto’s best chances still lie with James Reimer, who has returned to action after recovering from an injury that is still of an unconfirmed nature. In 2 starts, Reimer is 0-1-1, and allowed 7 goals in a little over 6 periods of play, though overall he’s actually played fairly well. Typical of Reimer, his take on allowing 4 Saturday and 3 Tuesday? “The way the trend’s going, I’ll only let in two the next time.” Cocky? Not at all. And the Leafs and their fans have no concerns Reimer is not ready to play. He’ll be fine.
So it would seem that for the first time since maybe Fuhr and Potvin, the Leafs have a pair of goalies they can trust to keep the team in a game. Gustavsson’s defenders (including Lukas Hardonk and Alex Mamalis) would be justifed in their ‘told-you-sos’, though it’s not likely you’ll find anyone looking to bench one goaler in favor of the other at this point. Not when confidence is high, not when the team seems to be comfortable playing in front of either netminder. A controversy? Well, perhaps not. Unless you are a Toronto columnist trying to find out from the head coach which goalie he’ll employ on game night.