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Who’s the real number-two (errr…number-one, now) in goal for the Maple Leafs?

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….


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  2. I think the question we were all posing pre-season was a version of the one you've posed today. Although it was more like: is Reimer the real deal? To me eyes, all 3 of our goalies have the disturbing tendency to let in at least 1 soft goal per game. And they all have the ability to make the big save. I like Scrivens' positioning better then Gustavsson's, but Reimer's is fine too. They all often seem to lose sight of the puck - anyone else noticed that? I never saw Gustavsson prior to the NHL, so have no idea of his previous style, but he does seem uncomfortable at times, as if he's "thinking" instead of reacting. Scrivens seems more relaxed. My hunch is that Scrivens will be really good, but will have to endure a learning curve this year. And my fear is that Reimer really is concussed (he sure looked like it on the night), so we'll be enduring that learning curve as well. As for Marty T - well, I think we need more of a Young Turk than a veteran Turco.
    After re-watching the game, I came away with the feeling that sometimes, you don't get the bounces and you just lose 'em. Two of the Panther goals were marginal goalie interference (though the other three were soft, I'll agree), and we could have had a bunch. For the final two periods, at least, there was good energy, smart playmaking, and a whole lot more dedication to details across the board. Some emphatic hitting, much better zone clearing... let's hope one of our goalies can step up against what is sure to be a fired-up-by-new-coach St Louis Blues.

  3. Gerund O'...I think you are absolutely right about last night's game against the Panthers. If the Leafs score on some of their chances, it's a different game. As I've often posted about Kessel, (and it applies to others, too), sometimes you're playing well but the puck just isn't going in.

    St. Louis, not surprisingly, had a good first game under a new coach last night. But I also suspect the Leafs will be stronger on Thursday, too.

    I'm with you about not going after Turco. We've had "stop-gap" veteran goalies in recent years and it hasn't worked. I like the idea of building with young goalies. Dubnyk is playing well in Edmonton and it has taken him years to develop...

  4. Where do I begin? An opposing goalie playing a sharp, outstanding game, in addition to the puck not bouncing for you usually results in a loss. Do coaches coach this? Treat the fourth line and one defence pairing like a relief pitcher. Put them in after a goal against, win the faceoff, get the puck deep in the opposing zone and forecheck, cycle, get nasty, a faceoff, rub gloves in the general direction of faces wearing sweaters of players that have the audacity to score on your goalie. Change the goddam rhythm for thirty seconds to a minute. The other team cannot score if they are in their own end being distracted and annoyed. Furthermore, this pressure allows your goalie those precious seconds to reset his mind and it forces the other team to reset their’s. Any goaltender knows that the game is 90% in his or her head and the other 10% mental. The acrobatics are most often the result of a mental mistake and being out of position. Gustavsson appears to lose concentration for very small, often devastating moments in a game. That is the only major problem I am seeing now, but it is killing him and effecting the team very badly, causing them to lose confidence in him. The rest of the team better not scapegoat Gus however, because they are an even bigger problem, and for much longer stretches of time. Has anyone written this: The reason for the cone of silence on James Reimer’s concussion was old-fashioned ass covering. To the best of my recollection the Leafs did not follow league protocol after the injury and allowed him to play when he should have been in the quiet room thinking quiet thoughts. Hence, a concussion becomes a “whiplash-like upper body injury”. Ben Scrivens’ problem: lack of experience at the pro level. Oh man, Thursday cannot come soon enough. We all need to reset.

  5. What about Nabokov? Wilson coached him in San Jose, speculation or possibility?

  6. Bobby C...You make an excellent point about the impact of coaching after the opposition scores a goal. Of course, a team will not always be able to prevent certain things, but clearly teams don't want to give up goals in the first minute of a period, or the last minute. And, they should be on alert after they have just given up a goal. (Personally, I've always been in favour of changing the entire 5-man unit after a goal is scored, whether for or against, just for some time to settle your mind and re-focus...) Again, it can't always be prevented, but it is somewhat "inexcusable" to allow a team like the Panthers to score twice in 30 seconds.

    On Monster, I see things much the way you do- guy has the ability but it's what's in his head that matters most. Whether the confidence thing started with him or the organization, I don't know for sure. But if they believe in the guy, then they better show it soon. Then it's up to him.

    As for Reimer, you do indeed raise a question that may not have received sufficient attention (much like the Grabovski "hit" last season): did the Leafs do enough to check the player (in this case, Reimer) out? Now we have a long-term issue, it would seem. Not to blame the team's response, but it is a fair question to at least ask.

  7. Hi Jack, thanks for your comment. My personal preference is to stick with the young guys and show faith in them. As I said in an earlier comment here, we have gone down the road of veteran "stop-gap" guys with little success. (Gerber, Toskala, Giguere). If I thought we were getting the Nabokov of 5 years ago, I'd probably run to sign him, if it was cap do-able. Now, well, he might re-capture his form, but I do wonder.

  8. I'll bite on Nabokov- he's cheap, there's no commitment beyond this season, he has some real skills left and, who knows? Maybe a slightly crazy Russian goalie is exactly what this team needs. Kind of like a Grabbo-mentor.