Monster scary good
STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency
|Maple Leafs goaltender Jonas Gustavsson follows the puck during a game against the Sabres at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ont., Jan. 10, 2012. (FRED THORNHILL/Reuters)
TORONTO - It used to be that The Monster scared the hell out of his own coach as much as the opposition, with his inconsistency and knack for letting in soft goals on a regular basis.
But for the first time since the Maple Leafs acquired him in July of 2009, Jonas Gustavsson is looking — on a consistent basis — like a front-line NHL goaltender, the kind of netminder that can carry a team into the playoffs.
“It’s huge,” said Leafs coach Ron Wilson, when asked what Gustavsson’s play is doing for the mood inside the dressing room these days. “You saw what happened last year when James (Reimer) came in and started playing really well. All of a sudden, we were scoring more goals and everything seemed to get fixed in a hurry.
“You look around our league at some of the other teams that are ahead of us in the standings and generally they’re there in large part because of the solid goaltending they get,” the coach added. “And you can’t go anywhere with average or mediocre goaltending in this league. It’s too close. Goaltenders make the difference.”
Gustavsson certainly made the difference Tuesday night against the Sabres, turning aside 32 shots in a 2-0 win, to record his fourth consecutive win and second shutout in his past three games. He was more steady than spectacular against the punchless Sabres, but he did make a few huge saves, including a monster stop on defenceman Tyler Myers in the dying seconds of play with Ryan Miller pulled for the extra attacker.
When Brian Burke signed Gustavsson on July 7, 2009, the Leafs GM was expecting to get a game-changer. Instead, largely because of health setbacks and the surprisingly great play by Reimer last season, Gustavsson never really got on track, never got the chance to prove that his heady statistics from the Swedish Elite League weren’t a fluke. But now he’s starting to show what Burke and others NHL GMs saw when they scouted him a few seasons ago.
“It’s a process he’s gone through over the couple of years,” said Wilson, when asked about the goalie’s recent success. “He’s been healthy the whole season and naturally his confidence has grown. He had a great November, we didn’t play him much in December — we were trying to get Reimer on top of his game — and now he’s come in and done very well. He is handling pucks, he is confident, he is making key saves when we need him. He’s playing real well. (And) no soft goals. I can’t think of the last time he let a soft goal in. So, that’s real positive development for us.”
It was expected that Reimer would carry the load as the No.1 netminder for the Leafs this season, but more and more he looks like the regular backup. Still, it’s a good situation. The Leafs now have two goaltenders capable of getting hot and carrying the team when they’re healthy.
“I feel good out there,” said Gustavsson. “But I’ve been feeling good early in the season too. You know, it’s so little between winning and losing and letting in three or four goals or having a shutout. So you really have to be on your toes and keep pushing yourself . You can’t relax just because you had a good run.”
HERE, THERE, EVERYWHERE
Second game in a row in which forward Nazem Kadri created some great scoring chances, but came away with no points ... The Leafs are still last in the penalty-kill (73.6% success rate) but are slowly creeping up after going 7-for-7 on the PK the past four games. They weren’t short-handed against Buffalo ... Phil Kessel’s point streak was halted at eight games ... Not to revive the trade debate again, but Tyler Seguin, whom the Boston Bruins drafted second overall in 2010 with the pick they acquired from the Leafs in the Kessel trade, leads the NHL with a plus-32. Seguin has 16 goals and 21 assists in 37 games. Kessel is tied for second in NHL scoring with 48 points and is a plus-six ... The Sabres haven’t recorded a road win since Dec. 3.
AWAY FROM THE ICE
Former Leafs great Mike Palmateer was spotted in the press box ... Embarrassing moment for a journalist after the game: His phone started went off in the Leafs dressing room, with the words “Mike Zigomanis. Mike Zigomanis.” Funny for the rest of us.