PHILADELPHIA - The Maple Leafs don’t believe they have a goaltending controversy, or even a crisis, with the injury to James Reimer on Saturday night in Montreal.
They do, however, have some concern between the pipes, starting with Monday’s date here against what promises to be an ornery Flyers squad.
And if there isn’t a coach or management type that isn’t at least nervous about the net pains, we’d be surprised.
Reimer is expected to sit this one out after getting bowled over by Montreal’s Brian Gionta in Saturday night’s 5-4 Leafs overtime win. Officially, the team is saying Reimer suffered “whiplash” like symptoms after the collision with the pint-sized Hab and, though he said he was feeling better on Sunday, the second-year goalie didn’t practise with the team.
As a result, backup Jonas Gustavsson will see action for a third consecutive game, looking to make an important statement to his employers, not to mention his teammates who have sprinted out to a solid 5-1-1, Northeast Division-leading start to the season.
Leafs coach Ron Wilson officially put Reimer on the growing list of day-to-day players — remember when Tim Connolly started that group way back in training camp? — and said he expects his starter to return when the Leafs close out their four-game road swing Thursday against the New York Rangers.
But until Reimer returns, the suitability of Gustavsson’s role as backup will be under fire. The Monster, who has never truly settled in since he came here at the start of the 2009-10 season, says his confidence is not shaken, despite the fact that he’s clearly been relegated to the backup role of the team’s poster boy, Reimer.
“I played pre-season games and practised every day. That’s where you get your confidence,” Gustavsson said following the Leafs’ noon-hour practice at the Wells Fargo Center here on Sunday. “You practise hard, stop the shots and you feel like you’ve done everything you can.”
As Gustavsson found out Thursday night in Boston, the game bullets come a lot harder than they do in practice, however. In fairness, though, the six goals he surrendered in that one came at least in part due to the fact the players in front of him may have had their worst outing of the season.
With acknowledgement to the difficult assignments he has had, Gustavsson’s goals against average in five periods is a sky-high 5.35, with a mildly alarming save percentage of .852.
“Obviously, a goalie wants to play every night and find a rhythm and he hasn’t been able to do that,” said Wilson, who added one of the Marlies goalies, likely Ben Scrivens, will be called up for backup duty on Monday. “But (Gustavsson) played well (at Philly) in the exhibition season and getting a win under his belt probably takes some of the pressure off. It had been a long time since he actually won a game.”
How long, you ask? With the emergence of Reimer late last season and J-S Giguere as his backup, Gustavsson hadn’t won a game for the Leafs since Jan. 6 before earning the ‘W’ at the Bell Centre. It was the second hostile environment action in a row for Gustavsson, taking over from Reimer after 20 minutes. He allowed three goals on 18 shots, but the Leafs escaped with the wild, 5-4 overtime victory.
“I felt bad for (Gustavsson),” Reimer said. “As a goalie, you are obviously always prepared to go in, but it’s tough to go in the middle of the game, especially with the high pressure of playing in Montreal.
“I thought he played really well. I might have to buy him dinner or something like that.”
As for his own status, Reimer sounded confident that he won’t be missing for long.
“I’d be shocked if it was anything more than a couple of days, but you never know,” Reimer said. “I feel a lot better than I did (Saturday night.) We’re going in the right direction. It’s a day-to-day kind of thing. We’ll see how it is (Monday) morning and gauge from there.”
The Flyers, meanwhile, figure to be the third extra-motivated opponent the Leafs face on this road trip. On Thursday in Boston, the Bruins were fired-up from a poor start and the weariness of hearing over and over about their Stanley Cup “hangover.”
In Montreal, the Habs were also struggling and looking to even the score from their opening-night loss in Toronto. And now the Flyers, who are 1-2-1 at home, including a poor effort to St. Louis on Saturday night.