Leafs have goalie concerns

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:35 PM ET

TORONTO - Add goaltending concerns to a laundry list of Maple Leaf woes, such as lack of scoring, poor mental preparation and Eggo-maniacs running loose in the stands.

Now that it's going to be Jonas Gustavsson's Monster Mash for the next two weeks, is the second-year Swede up to the task? And what of James Reimer, who will get at least one start while Jean-Sebastien Giguere rests a groin injury?

Tuesday's news that the veteran Giguere will be off skates entirely a week to 10 days and then eased back into practice was tempered by the NHL schedule, which has the Leafs off until Boxing Day in New Jersey. But when the team can least afford it, Gustavsson has run into some technical turbulence. He has given up nine goals in six periods dating to Giguere's injury in Calgary last Thursday, topped by five Atlanta goals on 18 shots Monday at the ACC. More than once, Gustavsson was looking desperately around for pucks that were already in the mesh.

"(Gustavsson) has been getting screened a lot," Wilson noted. "I want him to do a better job of fighting through to see pucks, or be in a more set position. But our defence have to do a better job of clearing people in front of the net."

With three games in five nights starting with the Devils on Sunday, Gustavsson will give way to Reimer for at least one start. Reimer, who mopped up Monday for 14 minutes in a 6-3 loss to Atlanta, could play as early as Tuesday against Carolina, though the following out-of-conference match against Columbus is more likely. Wilson won't make plans beyond Sunday in Newark, where Gustavsson can atone for his last start.

Gustavsson won a club record-tying seven in a row last year as a rookie, but Wilson would settle for breaking this three-game losing streak. On most nights, Gustavsson has held Toronto's pop-gun offence in the game. Eight times this year, the Leafs have scored two or less in support of him. But by the time the Leafs had bagged three on Monday and had the Thrashers rattled, Gustavsson was on the bench for Reimer.

"This (five days off) will be good to re-group for the guys who've played a lot," Gustavsson said. "Hopefully, we come back with lots of energy. You can never cheat (in hockey). When you come back on the ice, you have to work on the same things over and over again, even if you feel tired. You can never work enough on technical stuff."

A preliminary report from a specialist e-mailed to Wilson was that rest is what Giguere needs now rather than a medical procedure of some kind.

"Complete rest for about a week," Wilson added. "Once he's rested, he'll go through his on-ice progressions. So we're probably looking at close to two weeks. We're very confident in James and he should play a game in here somewhere, but I'll withhold judgment until after the New Jersey game."

Toronto will be at least 10 points out of a playoff spot when play resumes on Sunday and will be coming off of a long break that will make it even harder to focus 100% when the puck drops.

Captain Dion Phaneuf is fed up hearing questions about the boos that have punctuated recent home games, but realizes the negative attention is a consequence of accepting his new role with the 'C'.

"It's not fun getting booed in your own building, bottom line," the defenceman said. "It's disappointing. I've said all along we have unbelievable fans, but when things aren't going our way, they're letting us know.

"We didn't quit (Monday), but we also dug ourselves a hole we couldn't get out of. When you do that against good teams, you're not coming out of it."

At least with one line doing all the scoring. Since the start of the Western Canadian road trip a week ago, six of 10 goals came from the line of Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin and Clarke MacArthur. Phaneuf had one, as did checker John Mitchell, leaving a lot of second and third liners squeezing sticks.

"We're certainly not going to blame the goalies," defenceman Luke Schenn said. "They've given us so many chances to win and we haven't scored. As a whole, we're missing assignments. Everyone has to be better. There have been too many ups and downs here; win a couple and then drop a few."

Nazem Kadri likely will be reinstated after Wilson gave the rookie forward a couple of days in the stands to think about his decision-making with the puck and 16 NHL games without a goal.

"It didn't take me too long to realize I didn't like (watching from) the press box," Kadri said. "I was scratched as a junior (star). I know how to handle this. It's another stepping stone for me."

However, the slope can't get much more rocky for these Leafs.


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