Was it even a week ago that I nudged Leaf followers here—whether they liked the notion or not—to grudgingly accept the fact that Burke and Wilson had long ago decided Reimer was their guy, and, all things being equal, it was going to stay that way the rest of the season.
I believe everything that I wrote still stands: that is, the brass paid Reimer like a young, emerging “number-one” goaltender in the off-season. They loved his salvation (as in saving a sinking ship) performance a season ago and likely feel he is the ideal Allaire-type pupil (and very cool customer) who is a keeper—no pun intended.
But the early-season concussion/whiplash issue and some uneven efforts later, we are in a brave new world. I remain steadfast in the view that while they may not say it out loud, management still wants—and expects—Reimer to be the guy before this regular-season is all over in April. I’m absolutely certain their view has not changed. (Didn’t Wilson say, earlier this season, that Gustavsson may not be the kind of goalie who plays best as a number one, or words to that effect? The implication was that the pressure was too much for him. I don’t want to misquote him, so please correct me if I missed the context of his comments…)
I thought Reimer actually played a couple of very strong games after he had struggled a bit when he first came back from his injury. But he was not himself again in a couple recent games, and now Gustavsson has won two in a row, including a shut out—though the Tuesday contest was not exactly a goaltending classic.
The Jets also provided precious little energy or opposition Thursday night, but Gustavsson did his job when he had to, and helped earn an important two points for the Leafs, who suddenly have to be feeling a lot better about themselves heading into Saturday night’s contest with Red Wings.
A few weeks ago some observers were wondering if, even when Monster did play, part of the objective was to get him some playing time so he could be showcased and get something helpful back in a potential trade. With his free-agency looming this summer I’m still not certain his body of work would have many, if any, NHL GM’s running to sign him to a long-term deal, but I think he’s a talented guy. I’ve posted here many times before that I think he may be able to play well, if not necessarily flourish, somewhere where he might feel more appreciated.
We now find the Leafs in a rather interesting situation. Here’s the question: with the playoffs a relative “necessity” for Burke and Wilson (for each their own reasons) will Gustavsson now be allowed to play a run of games, even if he loses some?
When he had that opportunity at the tail end of Reimer’s fairly prolonged absence earlier this season, he was starting to find his game when Reimer was inserted back into the line-up.
The Leafs need top rank goaltending down the stretch. Someone has to step forward. Most fans don’t care if it's Gus, the likeable Reimer, Ben Scrivens or Johnny Bower (who, at 87, might have been able to beat a listless Winnipeg team Thursday night). But one, or some combination of goalies, will need to steal games at times the rest of the way. Not all opponents will look like the two the Leafs have played so far this week, eh?
Reimer will start again soon, I’m sure. The brass likes him, and so do a lot of us. But winning is the only agenda right now. Building Reimer back up is part of the coach’s job, for sure, and that will be all the easier when he starts putting wins back to back again. And I believe he will, soon.
But for now, it looks like Gus, despite what I wrote a few days ago—and what management really was hoping for.