Leafs likely to stick with Giguere

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:19 PM ET

TORONTO - Jean-Sebastien Giguere has played in 33 different National Hockey League rinks in his career and unless Ron Wilson is a real gambler, make that 34 on Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.

In almost the same breath as saying he wants to stick with a winning lineup, a coy Wilson said Jonas Gustavsson would play either Wednesday or Friday in New York, the Maple Leafs’ first road trip, that will cover the newest and oldest buldings in the NHL. But unless the coach has forgotten how hard it was to find the right man between the pipes in last year’s horrendous 1-12 start, bet on Giguere representing the Leafs for the first time at the 18,087-seat Consol Energy Center.

Though he spent almost his whole career in the Western Conference, the 33-year-old Giguere has played at a few of the oldest barns in the Eastern circuit, including such relics as Maple Leaf Gardens and the Hartford Civic Center. But since the late ’90s expansion brought four expansion teams in, there’s not much to differentiate the ponds in the 30 cities. With the closing of Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh, which was the league’s oldest, only Madison Square Garden and the Nassau Coliseum would qualify as antiquated.

“You don’t have to adjust much any more,” Giguere said Tuesday afternoon as the Leafs headed to the airport. “If you go to a place such as Detroit (30-year-old Joe Louis Arena), you know the bounces are funny and it takes an adjustment. But the new rinks are fairly well built and usually the ice is up to par. We feel out the bounces during the pre-game skate. For the most part, boards are all the same, but the partitions might be different as well as the glass.

“Among the new ones, Minnesota and Columbus are very nice and L.A. is just a huge bulding.

The ice wasn’t good at Mellon sometimes, but it was a rink with character. It won some championships and you have to feed off that, too.

“This shouldn’t make a difference one way or another, but in most of the new rinks you’ll get a good visitors’ dressing room, that’s pretty comfortable. In the old Mellon, the goalies had to be in the other room and didn’t feel part of the team.”

Giguere expects to get right into the game when Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin come looking for a breakout game after the Pens lost two of their first three games. And Wilson won’t have the last line change he enjoyed in wins over Montreal and Ottawa.

“Sometimes match-ups are way over-played,” Wilson said. “We didn’t really do too much in our first two games and things have worked out. Our defence is pretty solid and that’s the most important match-up you’ll ever get. We’re strong, one through six, or seven (the untried Brett Lebda).”

It’s likely that the pairing of Dion Phaneuf and Francois Beauchemin would be concentrated on at least one of the star Pens.

“It’s just a little different being on the road,” said right winger and ex-Pen Colby Armstrong. “Some players will face Crosby and Malkin and such, but I think we’ll look to keep our same game plan of being hard to play against.

“The big thing last game was not giving (Ottawa) time and space and winning those little battles. We have a lot of guys from first to fourth lines and on our defence who can win us those. If we stick together out there, we’ll give ourselves a chance every night.”

With a night off between the Pittsburgh and New York games, Wilson might think of coming back with Giguere if he does well on Wednesday. Gustavsson, who wasn’t turning many heads at camp as his NHL primer continues, insists he’s in the dark about when he’ll make his first start of this season.

“You always want to get in there, but the team is winning and Jiggy’s playing great,” Gustavsson said. “He is pushing me now and I tried to push him at the end of last season. I think it’s great for the team. It’s just tough competition. The only thing I can do is go out there and show I’m ready when I get the chance.”

If he does draw the Rangers, there would be some motivation at facing former Swedish Olympic teammate Henrik Lundqvist

Gustavsson won a shootout when the Rangers visited Toronto last March, though Lundqvist turned the tables a week later at Madison Square Garden in a 5-1 decision.

“Maybe the first game against him was special, now it’s like any other game,” Gustavsson said. “You want to win them all, whether you are Swedish, Canadian or a rookie. Every goalie in this league is good and you focus on yourself not on the other team.”

lance.hornby@sunmedia.ca

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