Leafs deal with goalie deja vu
Lance Hornby, QMI Agency
|Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Jonas Gunnarsson (R) is knocked to the ice by New York Rangers' Ryan Callahan Thursday night. The puck entered the net but the goal was waved off as Callahan was ruled in the crease. (REUTERS)
TORONTO - Trying to guess the man behind the mask has become a sort of Halloween tradition with the Maple Leafs.
For the third straight year and in the midst of their second consecutive hot start, they’re concerned about an injury to their No. 1 goaltender slowing progress. Jonas Gustavsson‘s rookie year was haunted by groin issues and heart ablations, Jean-Sebastien Giguere went out with a groin issue after the Leafs opened 4-0-1 last October and now James Reimer’s murky head injury is the big worry.
Going further back to the trials of Andrew Raycroft and Vesa Toskala, Toronto usually sorts it out in the second half, but not before precious playoff points have slipped away. Which is why a 72-hour span with Gustavsson at the controls this week is getting extra scrutiny. He did stop 28 of 30 shots in New York on Thursday after Reimer was suddenly put on IR, but that was his first regulation win since Boxing Day.
Either he follows that up Saturday against the Pittsburgh Penguins or Reimer makes his revised return Sunday in Ottawa. If there’s a setback in both situations, then options such as using Ben Scrivens would be employed.
Reimer was not on the ice Thursday at the MasterCard Centre, watching from the corner glass in a track suit following an off-ice workout. After Gustavsson innocently mentioned the word concussion on Thursday regarding Reimer (even though the Leafs officially aren’t calling it that), coach Ron Wilson wasn’t too forthcoming with an update.
“I may (know more), but I’m not going to share that, I’m not obligated,” a defensive Wilson said. “(Reimer) won’t be playing tomorrow, I expect him to be ready Sunday.”
Gustavsson admitted his words got “blown out of proportion.”
“I just said it because I don’t know any other symptoms,” Gustavsson said of his logical, but ill-timed utterance. “I guess it was something I threw out there. I don’t know what he has or doesn’t have. I didn’t mean it like that.”
Fortunately, Dr. Gustavsson returned his degree and concentrated on his day job while in New York. He
put himself back in good stead with Wilson by winning for the second time in less than a week after relieving Reimer in Montreal last Saturday. He’s also been on the losing end of scheduled starts in Boston and Philadelphia.
“Jonas played very well last night and getting a couple of games under his belt is only going to increase his confidence,” Wilson said. “Over the course of the year, we’re probably going to need three goalies. We have confidence in all of them.”
But after finishing March of 2010 with seven straight wins, Gustavsson has been either hurt, slumping or taking a back seat to someone better.
“Of course it’s frustrating not to play games, but Reims came up last year and he deserved to play,” Gustavsson said. “You can’t just quit because of that, you have to keep working hard. Over your career, you’re going to have your ups and downs. Your reward will come sooner or later.”
The admiration around the dressing room for Reimer, who came from nowhere to get the top job and a new contract, has now spread to Gustavsson for dealing with so much negativity the past couple of years.
“Reims has shown himself to be one of the elite goalies in the league, but that being said, Monster has come into camp, is in great shape (and) had a good pre-season,” defenceman Mike Komisarek said. “Same thing with Scrivvies. Boys love having him around, quite the character, easy-going guy. You ask any of the defencemen, all those guys are pretty comfortable no matter who is in net.”
Gustavsson, who had been badly burned his previous game in New York, now faces a Penguins’ team that boasts nine-goal scorer James Neal, who is tied with Phil Kessel for the league lead. The returning Evgeni Malkin also presents challenges.
“I’m not happy to just get that one win,” he said. “We want to keep going. When I have a bad game, I don’t want to keep thinking about that too long and the same when I win. I just try to re-focus and be ready for the next challenge.”