Monster work in progress

BILL LANKHOF, Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:42 PM ET

Jonas Gustavsson isn’t giving the guru of butterfly goaltenders, Francois Allaire, visions of former star pupil Patrick Roy. Not yet.

Allaire is hedging whether Gustavsson will become a dominant National Hockey League goaltender.

“Right now, it’s a little too soon to tell,” the Leafs’ goaltending consultant said yesterday. “We have a lot to do. Where I expect my goalie to be, we’re still pretty far away from that.”

Gustavsson was surrounded by media yesterday at practice after a solid performance Tuesday in Ottawa, causing a bemused coach Ron Wilson to note: “I suppose everyone wants to nominate him for the Vezina Trophy now and a month ago (the media) wanted to throw him under the bus.”

While Gustavsson becomes a restricted free agent after the season, Allaire spoke like he expects him to return, noting that there are summer plans to work together.

Gustavsson has probably been as good as could be expected in his rookie season, considering the circumstances. He has played behind a team that looked upon defence as if it were an option. He missed much of training camp to undergo a cardiac ablation, missed games with a groin injury, then had a second heart operation.

“It wasn’t like a regular season,” Allaire said. “He is coming into a different country, different league, different town, different level, different food. All that and two large surgeries.

“It’s his heart. I don’t see how it couldn’t affect him. Plus, there was the Olympics and, with the contracted schedule, you don’t have much time to practise and it’s all go, go, go. That’s not an easy season to start in the NHL.”

The Monster’s best hockey has come since the Olympics, with a personal four-game win streak while sharing duties with veteran Jean-Sebastien Giguere. Gustavsson “stole that game for us,” said teammate Rickard Wallin of the 4-1 win over the Sens. It is possible to count with one hand the times anyone in blue has been able to say that in the past couple of years.

Also, when asked yesterday why he’d moved his locker next to Giguere’s, Gustavsson deadpanned: “It’s better if the most clever guys sit next to each other in the locker room so they can have a good discussion.”

Zinger. He is hitting stride.

“I’ve learned what it means to be an NHL player on and off the ice,” said Gustavsson who, as an introvert, wouldn’t a couple of months ago even considered cracking so wise. But the team is winning, he is comfortable with his spirited, young teammates and the winning hasn’t hurt, either.

Giguere, the original Michelin Man when it comes to making strategic use of equipment, has been teaching Gustavsson to tinker and has helped him with his crease movement.

“There is a difference between Jonas now and the beginning of the season, but I need him to be more consistent,” said Allaire.

Gustavsson knows.

“Sometimes it is hard to refocus from game to game,” he said. “Especially if you had a really good night before, maybe you’re still a bit satisfied the next game and you’re not really there. You have to reset your mind every game and start from zero.”

The tag-team rotation with Giguere likely will see Gustavsson facing Philadelphia, Buffalo, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, and Montreal twice.

“(Giguere is) a guy who won a Cup, a Conn Smythe, eight years as a No. 1 goalie. That’s a different dimension than (Jonas),” Allaire said. “There is a big difference between playing in the NHL and performing in the NHL. It’s two different worlds. And there is no elevator. You have to take the stairs.

“We can call up anyone from the Marlies and they can play in the NHL. But performing is a different level. Jonas has to learn how to perform, how to get ready, how to manage the morning skate, his warmup. It’s a huge difference ... it’s about getting into the playoffs and then for two months knowing how to play well every day. That’s what we’re trying to teach. That’s where we’re trying to get. We’re still very far away from that.”

bill.lankhof@sunmedia.ca


Videos

Photos