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Will the "Monster" now get his chance?

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.


  1. Mike, I have long thought Gustavsson is a capable goalie but may not fit into the Allaire style.

    I had a lengthy post expressing my feelings and this is basically my rundown: Gustavsson looks uncomfortable at times and forced to play an Allaire style. Allaire nor "his style" made Gustavsson successful or to the NHL so why force him to change. I understand refinement but flat out changing what made someone successful. Gustavsson NEVER played an NHL prior to his NHL career, let alone a North American game. GMs/coaches often talk about Euros needing adjustment for a season or two yet this logic doesn't apply to a goalie - a more crucial position.

    Has Gustavsson been given a fair chance, one could argue not really. Would he be better off with a different team, more likely if they keep giving him the short stick.

    On the positive, I think the Leafs should run with Gustavsson if he is playing well. Reimer is signed for 3 years regardless and Gus is a UFA, might as well see if Gustavsson would have value to the Leafs in resigning if he is not traded.

  2. I hope they just play the hot goalie until he loses.

    They have ruined Gus getting on a good streak by inserting Reimer, just they have screwed up Reimer by putting in Gus.

    Let them play them until they lose.

  3. We're definitely on the same page Skill2Envy, on the Monster/Allaire question. This has been a long-running concern for me as I've posted here often in the past.

    And yes, Reimer is their guy going forward, but as you say, if Gus does a job for now, they will no doubt give him a shot....

  4. guess is they will do precisely what you suggest. Win and you play. I'd actually like to see them give Gus a run of games, and if he falters, rest him for a bit and do the same for Reimer....give them both a shot of confidence.

  5. following along the same lines as some of the other comments... i wonder what allaire would have done about dominek hasek? i'm sure hasek would have given allaire night-mares night after night with his totally unconventional (but ridiculously amazing) style. i haven't watched clips of Monster before coming to the leafs, but i would if his style was similarly unorthodox... hmm!

    also mike, please 'follow me' on blogspot! i don't update too often, and it's not sports-related, but i'd be honored to have you as one of my followers. (i even have an entry way back about sports dental injuries, although with dion taking a puck to the face last night, maybe a refresher entry should be added!).

  6. Alex C...You are right on about Hasek!

    I'd be more than happy to "follow"...I'll try to do that now....

  7. Alex C...can you send me the link? I was trying to do it through Google but I ran into roadblocks....

  8. I think people might believe that I don't believe in Reimer, which is not the case. I love both goalies and I believe both have the capacity for long, successful NHL careers. My worry is that the Gionta hit has slowed down Reimer, a goalie already dependent on perfect positioning, that tiny little bit to potentially slip his skill capacity down. I really wish/hope the Leafs have a baseline for Reimer's reaction speed. He just doesn't quite look like the goalie who resurrected our season last year, and Gus looks like a man on a mission.

  9. @Kidkawartha

    I think he's relying more on positioning than on reaction speed. The Allaire style..

  10. I agree with Kid K. Reimer does not look the same in his reaction time or positioning. And I just don't think it matters what Leaf management would like to have happen - because it isn't happening at the moment. Gustavsson seems to have found some confidence, he's making some big saves, the team is playing well - and that's the bottom line.
    Unlike many, I've never felt Reimer really earned his anointment as our #1 of the future. Much as we all like him personally, it seemed to me that he put together a nice string last year, but tailed off at the end. I felt doubtful about our goaltending from the start of the season, and I still do. But right now, the Monster looks good.

  11. At the end of the day I'm glad to see Gustavsson getting it together. His career is pretty much over in north America if he can't sort things out this season. Maybe someone takes a stab at him for next season, but he's gotta play well and he knows it. A little competition never hurt anybody. This will be great for both reimer and the monster. And am I the only one that Would love to see Gustavsson start in the playoffs if the leafs put a good run down the stretch with him in net? Lol. Either way pressure makes diamonds...

  12. Having watched Gustavsson while I was in Europe, he is more than a capable goalie. Unfortunately, I think Allair isnt performing as a good coach should; to me a good coach should figure out what strengths a player brings to the table and develop them. As discussed above there is obviously more than one style that can be successful in the NHL but Allair doesnt appear to be able to promote more than the one (his) style.
    At the elite level, its more about the players "mindset" than pure skill - I think the Leafs have done a real dis-service to the Monster by bringing him into a new culture, smaller ice surface and blow his confidence apart by trying to change his style. Get his confidence up and I think the Toronto fans will be eating out of his hands!!
    ...It also helps that the defence have finaly had a heart to heart and somebody's told them to get on the same page - maybe the coaches and Phaneuf should have some more loud "discussions" in the future.

  13. Sorry for being late in responding...KidK...I know you respect both goalies. I happen to be of the same view. Both have talent, different styles but good goalies, potentially both very good. Patience can't hurt. With Reimer, if it takes time, fine. That was a bad injury. We know he can play. Will he be "great"? Too soon to tell,. eh?

    Gerund O'...I think you have captured it: I'm probably a little stronger on the Reimer bandwagon, but I hear what you are saying, for sure. We need someone (or both) to play well the rest of the way as often as possible.

    TMLs...My sense is much the same, that Monster needs to play well when given the chance if he hopes to prolong his career in the NHL. At the moment, as I posted, I'm not sure GM's would be lined up. But there are 40 plus games to go this season. Both guys will play, I would think, at this point....

    David...You raise a point that I have heard from others as well who saw Gus play back home. That is, he is a good goalie with solid reflexes and instincts, though un-orthodox, for sure. Suddenly he was thrust into a new world with a coach who has "his way" of teaching goalies. Must not have been easy, and still isn't, I'm sure. We'll see if Gustavsson can mesh his natural skills with what he is being "taught"...Hopefully he is more comfortable now.

    As for the defence and their little chat: exactly. Talk guys, talk. Whatever it takes to get on the same page. Handled properly, a little frustration and good dialogue should only help build relationships with each other and the coaching staff....

  14. I like everyones comments. Supportive of both goalies and being critical in a positive way.

    I would agree with Gerund that Reimer was given the number #1 with little justification, look at Steve Mason if you need a reference. But there are successful ones out there too in Price and Ward, the latter is struggling current though but thats a team issue.

    I was very happy to see Reimer finally get his chance, MLSE seemed to do anything to push him back - brought in: Raycroft, Toskala, Gustavsson, Pogge, MacDonald, Rask, Clemmenson, and Rynnas all AFTER Reimer was in the system and BEFORE giving him a shot. So I was very glad that he was given a shot and made an impression.

    Reimer only has 39 AHL games of experience (majority in 09/10) and was drafted in 2006. Goaltending was surely the achilles heel coming into the season and the longevity of the season and a bad PK really made that stick out.

    Good Luck James and Jonas going forward and Go Leafs Go!

  15. Isn’t this the most pleasant goaltending controversy to come along in quite some time? I have said it here before; goaltending is 90% in the head and the other 10% “mental”. Watch Gustavsson’s repetitive, ritualistic gesture of tapping his face mask prior to face offs. This precise psychological anchoring technique appeared at the same time this year that his performance turned the corner. At that time, Gustavsson had eliminated several problems and there remained just two – focus and positioning. The glaring “softie” resulting from lack of concentration has essentially been eliminated from his game, and the other one I can see, a tendency to cheat toward the post on his angles, was not apparent against the Jets, and has been less of a problem for some time now. Just before his performance turned the corner I tried to make two points: 1) When he improved his focus and concentration and angles his save percentage would improve. 2) Save percentage does not matter. A paradox? Not really. As Grant Fuhr more than adequately proved there is only one goaltending stat that matters: the “W”. Internal completion is a bit like a goose laying a golden egg (no pun intended). However, when the internal competition is unfair it does not work. I understand that Ron Wilson was trying to reacquire last season’s Reimer magic. I suspect that he now realizes that he was going about it in the wrong way. I see in Gustavsson (and Reimer, Scrivens et al) nothing less than Franky Allaire’s coaching success.

  16. One of the things I really appreciate about this site, Skill2Envy, is exactly what you mentioned. People are respectful of each other's views, and when they talk about the team and the players, it isn't about trashing guys.

    We all understand that it takes remarkable talent and effort to get to this level, so our criticisms should generally be wrapped in a bit of sensitivity to the demands of the job. That doesn't mean we can't excpect a lot...they are handsomely paid for their "work", after all. Fans can always express their frustration, sure- that's part of the fun of being a fan, but I like that we can discuss issues and possibilities here the way we do.

    You've touched on Gerund's point about Reimer being given the top job, and I see what you guys are saying. Maybe it had been (or at least felt like) so long since the Leafs had had seemingly steady, competent goaltending that many of us were ready to welcome him with open arms- especially considering the young man is so genuinely nice.

    In any event, I'm with you. Whatever the brass was planning, let them both play and we may end up having two goalies who can win games here....

  17. Bobby C...You've captured this discussion so well, as always. I am interested (because I respect your views) that you see Allaire's influence as positive with Monster. I have tended to take the other view, that Gus has been largely hindered by Allaire's nit-picking. Perhaps Allaire has helped with the question of "focus" and positioning. I don't know enough about goaltending to truly know. But we can agree that confidence is huge, and that has everything (or at least a lot) to do with that is going on in an athlete's head, as you mention. If they feel good about themselves, and feel their coaches and teammates believe in them, it is so important.

    Whether Gustavsson stays a Leaf or goes elsewhere, I'd like to see him do well. He seems like a nice young man, too (and still a competitor...)

  18. My view reflects many of the comments above. I believe we have in Reimer and Gustavssson (and Scrivens) the makings of top notch goaltending for the Leafs. I can't comment on the mechanics of the position but can only rely on what I see in the games and what feeling this gives me.
    Take the Winnipeg game as an example. How many times in the recent years have we outplayed an opponent only to have our goaltender let in 1 or 2 soft goals against the run of play which gave the opponents life and resulted in a loss for our guys? Last night, as Michael said, Gus was not overly tested but he got the job done.
    So we won a game we should have won. Well done to all. BUT, this must be a given if we are to be a Cup worthy team.
    What remains for me to observe, however, is a game where we are outplayed but our goaltender steals one for us. We've had it happen against us and I need to see it happen for us before I expect to feel that we have the goaltending we need. Too many losses this year where we have said "our goalie never really had a chance" or "was left all alone to face the shooter and had no chance". Well goaltenders that steal games, make those "impossible" saves. Hopefully one of our guys has the right stuff to rise to this level. I think Reimer showed some of this in his big run last year but has not regained that form since his injury. Gus has yet to indicate he can do it but at least he seems to be over the "soft" goal hump and is getting the chance to show what he can do. The test against Detroit this Saturday is anxiously awaited!
    In summary, we need the goaltending that doesn't lose us games we deserve to win, gives us a solid chance to win games where we play as well as the other team and sometimes is good enough to steal a win for us.
    I really don't care which one it is that gets it done but both look like they have the capability. Good luck to both of them!

  19. Thank you Michael, you have created a wonderful forum for many of us to express our views. I see coaching, or any mentorship, as more symbiotic than hierarchical, a fusion of two forces if you will. The Allaire style, has several identifiable components, the most obvious being the butterfly to cover the low portion of the net. This default Allaire reaction can, indeed, sometimes be a “fault”. At the beginning of the season Gustavsson often dropped into the butterfiy too quickly, mechanically, when a simple stand-up would have resulted in a save. Opposing shooters were feeding on this tendency, picking the top corners and outside post, due to his inside cheating and sometimes too deep positioning. Over the course of the season we see an evolution in Gustavsson, not so quick to drop to the butterfly and more square to the shooter, out a little more when he can. This improvement is not a result of orthodoxy, but improved confidence stemming from sound fundamentals. In other words, the Monster has been instilled with the necessary focus and confidence to make instantaneous decisions at mind-boggling NHL speed. The Allaire mechanics are obviously there, but he is playing “organically”, his own judgment based on the situation at hand. That result, to me, is the result of good coaching.

  20. i like both goalies and i understand that one is going to be played until they loose
    This in my opinion is a good thing as the team can only benefit as no matter which one is between the pipes he knows he will have to play out his skin every game or he will be replaced.
    It is going to take time for reimer to fully recapture the form he had before his injury but he is getting there but agree he is the no1 in the eyes of the management and somewhere down the line we will probably loose the monster