NEW YORK — The Maple Leafs don't have a goaltending controversy as much as a goaltender in crisis.
Jonas Gustavsson, despite all the pumping-up that teammates and coaches have offered in the two weeks since he last played, left a puddle of water Wednesday at MSG where his confidence used to be.
Though you couldn’t pin the Leafs’ season-worst 7-0 loss to the Rangers solely on the sophomore Swede, he is losing his place in a pecking order that rookie James Reimer shook up this month. Gustavsson gave up six of the seven, including an easy four-goal night by Marian Gaborik,
Coach Ron Wilson pulled him after three goals on 11 first-period shots, putting Jean-Sebastien Giguere in cold when his groin is still an unsettled issue, then coming back to the Monster for the final 40 minutes. Counting the team’s third-period collapse against the Blues in his last start, Gustavsson, fair or not, has been tagged for nine goals in four periods.
Wilson agreed a weak 0-for-2 effort by his team’s power play with the game scoreless didn’t help Gustavsson, part of a three-game losing skid where Toronto has just two goals.
“At the same time, he let in a couple of iffy goals,” Wilson said. “It will be a process he has to work through.”
But the Leafs are in a jam to get him some playing time, needing to see if Giguere can come back healthy and establish himself for next year with the Leafs or as trade bait by Feb. 28.
General manager Brian Burke hates the idea of carrying three goalies, as Gustavsson would have to clear waivers to be demoted and it would make no sense to call Reimer up if the Leafs are determined to give Giguere the call most nights. Giguere went to bat for Gustavsson before and after the game.
“It’s tough, sometimes when goalies lose confidence, everything goes in,” Giguere said. “He has to go back to basics, use his legs. With his size, just let the puck hit him. He has to come back hard tomorrow. We all have to be better.”
The Rangers gave away team calendars to their fans on Wednesday, but the Leafs needed a King Kong alarm clock.
By the time the Leafs realized a game was in progress at Madison Square Garden, Gaborik was on his way. Another setback Thursday at home against Anaheim and Toronto will once again have drained the bank of points it earned in a four-game winning streak. Was it less than a week ago that a cautiously optimistic Wilson said if the Leafs could win two of every three games the next while, they might get back in the playoffs?
Gaborik’s first goal typified the Leafs’ night. Gustavsson lost his stick, Tyler Bozak left his man to retrieve it and defenceman Francois Beauchemin put a backhand pass into the slot that Sean Avery gobbled up and gave to Gaborik. He beat Gustavsson, with Bozak holding his goalie’s paddle.
With MSG fans chanting “67” to mock the Leaf fans in attendance, the Rangers poured it on. Brian Boyle tipped a power-play shot in, but perhaps the worst was the shot Gaborik converted from a bad angle in the second after a weak Leaf dump-in, one of those annoying goals Gustavsson gives up short side when his big body somehow can’t hug the post effectively.
“I’d play it the same way and 99 times out of 100 I’d stop it,” Gustavsson said. “It was one of those days.”
Toronto’s offence, which was enjoying a three-line rennaisance on the road of late, has hit a wall, managing eight shots after the first period, despite the two power plays. Clarke MacArthur’s disallowed high-stick goal was the only time Henrik Lundqvist had to look behind him in earning his seventh shutout of the year. The problems he always encounters against the Leafs were reversed in one night.
The Rangers learned just before the game that top scorer Brandon Dubinsky could be out as long as a month with a stress fracture of his left leg, an injury that only surfaced two days after Monday’s loss to the Flyers. Later in Wednesday’s game, Ruslan Fedotenko was hit hard by defenceman Mike Komisarek and did not return with what’s believed to be a serious left shoulder injury.
But it was Gaborik who stepped into the scoring void with his 13th career hat trick where it should have been opportunistic Leafs.