Sharing starts answer for Leafs?

Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer congratulates teammate Jonas Gustavsson after a win against the...

Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer congratulates teammate Jonas Gustavsson after a win against the Lightning at the Air Canad Centre in Toronto, Ont., Jan. 3, 2012. (MIKE CASSESE/Reuters)

STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:11 AM ET

TORONTO - Forty-five games are gone, the Maple Leafs don’t have a definitive starting goaltender, and Denis Potvin thinks that’s just fine.

In fact, he thinks more teams should look at splitting the 82-game schedule up, the way his New York Islanders did when he they won four straight Stanley Cups in the 1980s, rather than riding one goalie.

“I think a lot of NHL teams are finding out they’ve been wrong,” said Potvin, one of the greatest defenceman to ever play. “Billy Smith never played more than 50 games in any of the seasons we won the Cup. You don’t have to have a definitive No. 1 during the season if you have two goalies who can play. Then you can run one — the hot guy — in the playoffs.”

Smith won four consecutive Stanley Cups for the New York Islanders — yep the Islanders once did that, kids — after splitting time in the season with Chico Resch.

Grant Fuhr won four Stanley Cups for the Edmonton Oilers, splitting a lot of his time during the regular season with Andy Moog.

The Leafs aren’t about to win a Stanley Cup and James Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson aren’t exactly Fuhr and Moog or Smith and Resch but the daily crisis of bafflegab that appears to be Toronto’s netminding is not as desperate as some would have you think. Reimer has been relatively average in the games he has started for the Leafs this season, trying to find the form, and it was difficult to determine where it’s at Tuesday night facing not enough shots from the Ottawa Senators. The kind of game difficult to play for any goalie, let alone one returning from weeks playing second string.

While Leafs fans and some critics worry that the Leafs don’t have a definitive No. 1 goaltender, there is some value in having two goaltenders who can start any night.

“The best thing that’s happened to the Vancouver Canucks this year is not giving (Roberto) Luongo a choice of when he plays or how often he plays. There is some competition between goalies and I think competition makes everybody better.”

Potvin may be on to something. The St. Louis Blues, under coach Ken Hitchcock, have essentially split their goaltending. Jaroslav Halak has started 24 games, Brian Elliott, the former Senator, has started 21. And while the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins played the Tim Thomas card all throughout the playoffs last spring, they have balanced their goaltending out with Thomas and Tuukka Rask, with Thomas starting two of every three games. Even in New York, where the Rangers are among the best teams in hockey, John Tortorella has cut down on Henrik Lundqvist’s starts with the Rangers.

“I think one of the reasons Martin Brodeur hasn’t been successful in the playoffs for a number of years is the amount of games he’s played during the season. He’s worn out by the end.”

The Leafs don’t have to worry about overplaying a goalie. Neither Reimer nor Gustavsson has yet to show themselves capable of stealing the job for themselves and only themselves. Reimer had a run this year and an ordinary start to this season. Gustavsson had an ordinary season a year ago, and has jumped up a step this year. If the Leafs have to split the goaltending the rest of the season, it won’t necessarily injure their chances of making the playoffs.

Blowing 2-0 leads at home with wonky play in their own end will undermine them more than Reimer relinquishing one soft one on Tuesday. What Potvin advocates isn’t the Ron Wilson play-until-you-lose theory but an inner competition between goaltenders.

“It was very competitive with the Islanders,” Potvin said. “Al Arbour used to say: ‘Whoever plays better at Monday’s practice starts Tuesday’s game.’ And I can tell you, when that happened we didn’t score much in practice. Chico and Billy were great friends, but they went at it hard against each other. When Al coached, there was no such thing as a day off. Our practices were intense.”

Maybe that’s what Wilson should do Wednesday. Let his goalies battle it out. Then determine which goalie starts Thursday against Minnesota, in the latest of a series of hugely significant games. There are, for the record, just 37 more enormous games to go.


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