TORONTO - Following the first 20 games last season, coach Ron Wilson’s team had just three wins and a bleak situation in goal with a struggling Vesa Toskala and raw rookie Jonas Gustavsson and farmhand Joey MacDonald.
Through 20 so far, Gustavsson has proven himself more battle-hardened, especially in the 10 periods since Jean-Sebastien Giguere was hurt, giving up four goals. Giguere is hoping to return from a groin strain for one of this weekend’s road games in Buffalo or Ottawa, but rushing back is not necessary, given the poise Gustavsson has shown. If this can be called a goaltending controversy, it’s a good problem for Wilson to have.
“You guys can write what you want, but we don’t have one,” Wilson said after Gustavsson’s 21 saves in Monday’s 4-1 win over Dallas. “They (push each other) in a positive way. The biggest cheerleader (Gustavsson) has right now is our other goalie and when you bring in (back-up) James Reimer who is capable, and the best goalie in the AHL is (Marlies’) Jussi Rynnas, we’re really strong in goal.
“Each knows from Jiggy on down that if they don’t hold up their end of the bargain, there’s another guy in the production line ready to take their job.”
Getting over turnovers
The Leafs were in double figures in giveaways again on Monday (Wilson disputes the NHL’s stats on the subject as being too arbitrary from rink to rink), but the point is that the turnovers weren’t much of a detriment to the win.
“I thought right from the get-go we were on top of things,” Wilson praised. “Our defence was moving up on the play, there wasn’t a gap. We spent a lot of time defending in Sunday’s practice and by playing good defence, we ended up with three or four goals.
“The one (Dallas scored) the Bozak line didn’t back-check very hard and ended up getting scored against.”
That meant Phil Kessel saw some time on the bench after Brad Richards scored, before Wilson let the contrite winger back out in the third period.
“Other than that, I don’t think we gave up many scoring chances,” Wilson said. “The one or two that we gave up, the Monster came up with a big save,
“Our defence in our zone did a good job down low, using their sticks and not running around trying to get big hits or make lots of noise.
“Just by keeping our sticks on the ice, we prevented a lot of low plays. Dallas, they like to use an inverted offence from behind the net. Everything’s behind the net and getting plays into the crease. We snuffed that out pretty good.”
With three days until their next game, the players were given Tuesday off for their annual Have a Heart Dinner at the Brassaii Restaurant on King St. West. The sold-out event raised $150,000 for charity ... When scoring first this year, the Leafs are 6-1-2. “It’s huge when you get that first goal and get rolling,” winger Clarke MacArthur said. “It makes the opposing team play a different game. Then we can get into chipping and chasing and frustrating other teams, which we did really well (Monday). That’s as close to a full 60-minute game as we’ve played all year.” ... For the fourth-straight game, the Leafs have taken two or less minors. “You harp on that, keeping our sticks down,” Wilson said. “That’s where you can get in trouble. Our tougher guys (such as Colton Orr, Mike Komisarek, Mike Brown) have been very disciplined about getting in fights, but not initiating something where they put us in trouble.” ... The Leafs had three even-strength goals on Monday, which has happened just once since their 4-0 start ... The impressive 27 shot blocks against the Stars were divided thusly, six for Francois Beauchemin, four each for Luke Schenn, Mike Komisarek and Tomas Kaberle, three for Carl Gunnarsson, two for Tim Brent and four others with one.