TORONTO - Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson wants to make one thing clear: There is no goalie controversy in Toronto. At the same time, he admits this is Jonas Gustavsson’s time to show the team he can handle duties as the top netminder.
Gustavsson will get the start against the struggling New Jersey Devils (5-11-2) on Thursday night at the Air Canada Centre after No. 1 ’keeper J-S Giguere pulled himself from Tuesday’s 5-4 win over Nashville with an apparent groin injury.
“I’m excited about the game tonight and then we’ll see what happens,” Gustavsson said after Thursday morning’s pre-game skate, which was optional. “You can’t think further ahead than one game, especially as a goalie, you have to stay sharp and stay focused all the time. We’ll see how it goes, that’s my goal to one day be the No. 1 goalie. I don’t know how long it will take, but it’s something I am looking for in the future.”
It’s unknown how long Giguere will be out as the team waits for the results of an MRI, but Leafs fans will be seeing a lot of Gustavsson in the meantime.
Wilson said that while there is no goalie controversy, Gustavsson “has got to view this as his opportunity to really take the ball and run with it, and I hope he does.”
“I mean any player in that position wants to take advantage of the opportunity because here he’s going to play basically every game until Jiggy comes back and maybe this will be his chance to establish himself as the No. 1 goalie,” Wilson said after the optional skate, where just 13 players hit the ice.
Two players who were back out after not skating at Wednesday’s mandatory practice were centre Tim Brent, who had blocked a shot on Tuesday night and was feeling the after-effects, and defenceman Francois Beauchemin.
“I just took a rest day, just a little sore, my body,” Beauchemin said as to why he skipped practice Wednesday. “We have a lot of games coming up, we play pretty much every second night in the next six days, so we’ll take the rest and be ready for games ... We have to be at the top of our game every night, so when we need a rest, we take it.”
Backing up Gustavsson in net as the Leafs (6-8-3) look to build on the win over the Predators after having dropped eight consecutive games will be Marlies call-up James Reimer.
Leafs forward Kris Versteeg on goalie Jonas Gustavsson stepping in for J-S Giguere: “Gustaph or Goostaph or Monster or whatever you guys (the media) want to call him, he’s so big, so athletic he covers a lot of the net and he can play the puck well, so it will help our defence.”
Gustavsson on the possibility of facing legendary ’keeper Martin Brodeur: “I watched him a lot. I couldn’t play like him, but I am a big fan of his work. It would be great to play against him.”
Leafs forward Tim Brent on shot blocking: “It’s something you get used to. You know it’s going to hurt, it’s going to sting for a little bit. But when it comes down to it, it’s worth it.”