NEWARK — Jonas Gustavsson asked reporters not to start the post-game questions until he could hustle to his stall and put on his Maple Leafs cap.
A true company man, even when his job qualifications are constantly being questioned by the public.
Gustavsson and the Leafs would love to see him take the role of No. 1 goaltender and run with it. There won’t be a better time, with Jean-Sebastien Giguere on the mend from another groin injury and his future more cloudy. But Giguere wasn’t expecting to hold the post much longer than this season, knowing that the 26-year-old Swede would soon be ready for prime time.
But Gustavsson is still on a learning curve, which becomes more evident each time he smashes his stick in frustration at his errors or the many muck-ups of his inexperienced teammates. Last year, he won seven games in a row down the stretch, but was having some technical turbulence in the early going this term. With Giguere out, the 2-to-1 ratio of starts that coach Ron Wilson wanted for the two has been disrupted. Gustavsson’s record of 4-10-2 and .894 save percentage was not endearing him to the coach and a five-goal meltdown against Atlanta had Wilson musing about using rookie James Reimer if The Monster didn’t shap up against the Devils on Boxing Day.
Gustavsson atoned with 29 saves in the 4-1 win and should be back in Tuesday against Carolina. He came within about seven minutes of a shutout, but didn’t dwell on it long when approached by the media.
“Every night we’re out there competing, but you have to be realistic,” Gustavsson said. “I’ve had some bad games and games where there wasn’t a lot I could do to not let (goals) in. Maybe I was lucky with a couple of posts and maybe I wasn’t sharp. Sometimes you have to accept that they’ve scored. If they score a lot on you, you just have to keep going. If you feel you’re doing something wrong over time, you have to adjust to that.
“Sometimes the score doesn’t say everything. Sometimes you have to look at the game and think about (improving) something else.”
Gustavsson shouldn’t be taking everything on his shoulders. He has improved in areas such as rebound control, stick-handling, over-playing angles and losing sight of pucks behind the net. Wilson was quite upset with how his defencemen were clearing traffic in front of Gustavsson in recent games, adding to his vision problems. To a degree, they were addressed in New Jersey and centre Tyler Bozak made one good stick-check to prevent a goal after the Devils had made it 3-1. It was a turning point, as the Leafs added the insurance marker that had been denied Gustavsson so many times this year.
At one time, the Leafs were averaging less than two goals a game in support of him and semmingly saving their firepower for Giguere.
“I don’t know if goals make my job easier, but it’s easier for us to get a win at least,” Gustavsson said. “That’s what we’re all looking for. The guys did a good job (Sunday). We talked about shooting the puck a lot and try not to make it too difficult. That gave us some results. Hopefully, we can keep going this way and put some pucks in.”
His enthusiasm for the Leafs, living in Toronto and working in the NHL remains strong, where other Europeans in this market with this little success might get down on the situation.
“I don’t go around thinking about it,” he said. “It’s more for the media and so on to relax. I don’t care so much about that (people on his case). You want to win, but if you aren’t winning, it’s not enough. You go out, you’re pumped up and you’re excited a couple of hours or even one day before the game. Then you end up losing. It’s not the way you want it, but you can’t feel sorry for yourself.
“We have to trust each other. Then more wins will come.”