After the Leafs were on the wrong end of a 7-0 home loss to the defending Stanley Cup champion Bruins Saturday night, I suggested in this space that I’d be pleased if Wilson went back to Scrivens for the start against the Panthers.
No knock on Gustavsson, my view was simply that, after a tough night in goal (his first ever at the ACC) it would be a boost to Scrivens to feel that the coaching staff was going to run him out there again, when, hopefully, his teammates would be better in front of him.
But last I checked, I have zero experience as an NHL head coach, and Wilson obviously had his reasons for going with The Monster Tuesday night. As I've said before, I still believe Gustavsson can be better than he has shown. And at times, he has indeed demonstrated a quality in his play that makes me want to believe he can find his rhythm (and his confidence) in Toronto on a consistent basis.
But I’ve also said, on more than one occasion here, that Gus may have to ply his trade elsewhere—away from the imposing presence of Francois Allaire—to feel free and be able to play the way he wants to—and apparently needs to—play to be successful. Though I’m also no goalie coach, I acknowledge that the guy has flaws in his game. But a player with his size, athletic ability and goaltending agility should be able to harness that skill set and be a good NHL goalie. Those who followed his career in his native Sweden seem to suggest this is not the same guy they saw for years back home.
My laymen’s assessment is that he is now, unfortunately, neither fish nor fowl. He is caught in a battle between his own natural instincts and the technical things he is “supposed” to do under Allaire’s watchful eye.
In the end what we have is a goalie who, on the same night (sometimes on the same shift) can look both brilliant—and lost.
In any event, what with Reimer’s ever-changing medical diagnosis and uncertain status, the Leafs are now on the horns of a potential dilemma. We hear the players say they are confident in Gustavsson, but while I see their lips moving when they say it, I don’t get the sense that they feel what they are saying, if you know what I mean.
To me, the organization lost Gustavsson last season, when he had a decent run of games at one point but still ended up watching Giguere and then of course Reimer. He has known for almost a year that he is no longer “the future” and that has to weigh on a guy. Not to make excuses for him—he is not stealing games, I realize, but again, I just think this is a guy caught in a goalie’s nightmare. The first sign of trouble, he sees that the coach has no confidence in him and if he senses that his teammates feel the same then it’s hard for a guy to believe in himself.
That’s why I think he may have to find a home elsewhere, fair or not.
As for Scrivens, I do wish he had been given the starting assignment against Florida. I’m not suggesting the outcome would have been different. I just wanted to see how he was going to respond to a 7-0 shellacking (he gave up the first 5 against the Bruins).
Goaltenders are funny, eh? How many current NHL goaltenders have been lights-out, game after game, year after year? Well, no one is literally brilliant every night, but you know what I’m getting at: goalies who are consistently good, with those occasional bad nights, of course. But a goalie his team can rely on to make key saves in the third period of close games, at playoff time and in the end, win his share of big games. Brodeur, yes, but after that, who?
Luongo doesn’t make my list. He’s great goalie, but there have been too many springtime failures. Miller in Buffalo? He is often tremendous, but he is just OK every other year. He’s going through one of his “off” periods right now, as a matter of fact, while getting booed in his own building.
Price in Montreal? Again, the guy is a hero one minute, a bum the next. Wonderful talent, but just when fans think he has put it all together, he struggles again.
Goaltending is a tough position, to state the obvious. Few are consistently brilliant and we don’t even know if Reimer can be that. We know that, over half a season last year, he was pretty good and kept the Leafs in a lot of games. But we all want to see him over a much longer stretch of time—like a couple of full seasons. Injuries are preventing us from seeing that right now.
The Leafs made a decision in the summer not to sign an experienced veteran to back-up Reimer. I agreed with that decision then and still do.
But the team does need to continue to build on that nice early-season feeling of success. Most of us recognized that while the team deserved their early-season accolades, they also had a nice run of good fortune, as in facing some mediocre opposition and struggling goaltenders. We are now far from a “panic” situation. Losing two games is just that, two games.
Having said that, Leaf fans, understandably, grow a little uneasy when they look at the schedule and wonder if Reimer is indeed coming back. You wonder if the players think that way too, though they will never admit it.
More importantly, they need to start putting the puck in the net again. It seemed so easy in those “halcyon days” of October. (Yes, a slight exaggeration…) We have hit a rough patch when the other guy's net looks awfully small, and ours looks pretty big.
Throw in special teams, too many goals against, and that rosy feeling can turn fairly quickly.
Now is the time for steady nerves, smart coaching—and one of Gustavsson or Scrivens to steal a game soon.
Other game notes:
- I would have thought the Leafs would have come out roaring in the first period on the heels of the Boston game. It didn’t happen.
- They had plenty of chances as the game progressed. Theodore (speaking of goalies who have had stunning peaks and troughs in a long NHL career) made some big saves.
- Schenn’s minutes were still modest. He was minus 3 in 12 minutes but there were factors in that “stat”. Confidence is clearly an issue. He did hit some people, which is part of his game when he is playing well. I’d like to see Luke play with Gunnarsson going forward.
- Kessel’s goal may seem “meaningless” but often times a goal in a lopsided loss will give a scorer confidence and jump. It will mean more if it starts another of his “streaks”.
- 15 games into the season, the Leafs have given up 51 goals against. More concerning is how often we have talked this season about give-aways, defensive turnovers and poor defensive positioning. There have been relatively few games where the team has not struggled with its defensive play. I though that was what training camp—and that early-season week off—was supposed to be about.
- I’m not a believer in the theory that the Leafs win more when Colby Armstrong is in the line-up, but it may be that they miss his grit and ability to get under people’s skin. That said, we weren’t concerned with that when the team was piling up points. And you need a number of players who can be energy players and agitate the opposition, not just one guy.
- Kulemin had a solid game, I thought, but just needs to be consistent—and for the puck to start going in for him.
- Frattin was minus 3 in his first game back, though he was not alone.
- While I concede, as Wilson suggested, that bad habits had crept into Toronto’s game by the time the Leafs won in Columbus last week, I think there have been bad habits evident through much of the season (remember the collapse against Ottawa?). The Leafs have won in spite of a lot of breakdowns.
- Scrivens stopped Versteeg on a third-period breakaway. That gave some Leaf fans a moment of satisfaction.
Long story short, it’s a long season, as I often say, and we all know there will be the expected ups and downs. If the Leafs ultimately play well enough to make the playoffs, we won’t worry about what happened on a Tuesday night in November against the Florida Panthers.
But if they don’t….