Giguere forces Leafs to change plans

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:08 AM ET

Once again, the best-laid plans of the Maple Leafs' goaltending have been torn up.

But this time, it's a hot hand forcing coach Ron Wilson and management to re-think strategy. When Jean-Sebastien Giguere arrived to take the bulk of net duties, the thinking was to keep one start a week open for Jonas Gustavsson so the rookie Swede could continue his NHL apprenticeship.

That was before Giguere took total charge with a pair of shutouts in his first two games, silencing the New Jersey Devils and Ottawa Senators, the latter the second-hottest team next to the Washington Capitals before Saturday.

In between, Gustavsson melted into the Newark night when the Devils turned up the heat late in the third period and scored three times in 3:04 for the victory.

With Giguere now the toast of the town, the first Leafs stopper ever to blank foes in his first two games and Toronto still mathematically alive for a playoff spot, school is out for the Monster and Jiggy is in through the Olympic break and likely the first games into March.

“The next two (Monday at home against the San Jose Sharks and Friday in St. Louis against the Blues) he’ll start and then get a chance to get his family up here (from Anaheim) during the break,” Wilson said Sunday at the MasterCard Centre.

Wilson thought he was doing the 32-year-old Giguere a favour by letting him catch his breath and sitting Friday, having left his wife and kids in the midst of a Ducks road trip to the East Coast when the trade was made and then partaking in a whirlwind of activity, Leafs travel and media requests.

But Giguere looks quite ready for the long haul, right back on the ice working hard on Sunday after his 30 saves against the Sens, eager to face the Sharks, a team he and Wilson know all too well.

His record against these familiar Pacific Division sparring partners is 15-15-2, having faced them more than any other club except the Phoenix Coyotes and Los Angeles Kings. His hard numbers against the team considered the best club never to have won the Cup is a .907 save percentage, 2.81 goals against average and five shutouts, the most zeroes against any team he has faced.

“He’s not going to be perfect every night,” Wilson warned those who are anticipating a third shutout. “We’ll just gauge Jonas’ development.”

Gustavsson won’t exactly rot away on the bench. The minute the horn goes in St. Louis, he’ll be on a plane to Vancouver to back up New York Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist and if nothing else, experience a lot of practice pucks from the Sedins, etc. He has been testing out his bright blue and gold pads and mask in practice.

But who knows, circumstance might see him get a chance to face the Sharks’ Canadian Olympic line of Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley anyway.

“They have a good defence who can move the puck (Dan Boyle is also on Team Canada) and a really good goaltender (Evgeni Nabokov),” Giguere said. “The key with them is stay out of the box (to negate the league’s second-best road power play of 30.1%). We have to try to put the puck deep in their zone, try to physically abuse their defence.”

Wilson has been head coach for four NHL teams, but the post-lockout Sharks might have been the ideal template for what he wants the Leafs to become.

“They were a big, physical team, solid up front and solid in goal,” Wilson said. “A real blend of everything you wanted; dominant centremen, good muckers and grinders.

“They have a great developmental program. They usually grow their own players and if they have too many, trade them for draft picks or sign a couple of free agents or as we did (acquiring Dion Phaneuf), trade a lot of assets for one big piece of the puzzle.

“That’s Joe Thornton and look at the success he’s had since going out there.”

The Sharks added another piece on Sunday as they acquired defenceman Niclas Wallin from the Carolina Hurricanes.

Monday’s game is a bonus scouting opportunity for Wilson to see the Sharks’ big line before Canada and the United States clash in Vancouver on Feb. 21.

“I’m not thinking about the Canadian team,” Wilson insisted. “I’m worried about shutting down their (overall) offence. We’ll have our hands full to say the least.”


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