The Leafs are bringing out the Monster.
Goaltender Jonas Gustavsson will get the start on Tuesday night as the Maple Leafs try to avoid their first four-game losing streak of the season when they host the always dangerous Steven Stamkos and the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Air Canada Centre.
Gustavsson, who is 2-0-3 with a 2.54 goals against average against Tampa Bay, gets the call ahead of James Reimer, who would have been making his seventh consecutive appearance in net.
Gustavsson didn’t see a whole lot of action in December as the Leafs tried to get Reimer (3.01 GAA, .900 save percentage) back to peak playing condition after he missed 18 games due to concussion-like symptoms. But coach Ron Wilson likes how the Swede played in November and says he has generally improved his game this season.
“He found his confidence, he was attacking pucks,” Wilson said after the Leafs’ morning skate on Tuesday. “He started to handle pucks better.
"We talk to all our goalies about their puck-handling and helping the defence out and he started to really get that. Hopefully he can step in there tonight, he hasn’t played in a while, and feel good about himself and make a couple of saves early and have something to build some confidence off of.”
Gustavsson, who is 9-7 with a 3.27 GAA and a .898 SV% this season, last started on Dec. 17, a 5-3 home loss to the Vancouver Canucks.
Speaking of home, the Leafs haven’t exactly felt safe here this season, going 8-5-4 at the ACC. But that is going to have to change quickly if they want to climb back into playoff contention. The Leafs, currently in 10th place in the Eastern Conference, play nine of 12 January games at home.
Unfortunately for Toronto, things won’t get any easier tonight. The Lightning, who currently rank 12th in the East, have started to turn things around and are looking for their fourth consecutive win. Much of their recent success has been powered by Stamkos, the league’s leading scorer with 26 goals. Ten of those have come in the past eight contests.
“Of course he’s the guy who can take the big shot and he scores a lot of goals, so you try to always see where he is on the ice,” Gustavsson said of Stamkos.
“These are big points for us,” Leafs defenceman Cody Franson said. “They’re four-point games, playing a team in our own conference.”
Franson is right, they are big. Just like every home game in January.