The Maple Leafs came out against the Panthers looking like they were carrying some extra Christmas turkey with them. They were slow to start. They couldn't connect on most passes. They didn't back-check enough, which gave the Panthers too many fast breaks.
Worst of all, the goaltending was not good. James Reimer was pulled after allowing three goals on only seven shots. Jonas Gustavsson was brought in during the second period and allowed another two goals in the last period and a half. Last night’s game was probably the best example for showing that this team has yet to have a proven number one goaltender.
Shout as much as you want about "Optimus Riem" but the fact is, this kid has yet to play a full NHL season. He has yet to play in a playoff series, or a playoff race for that matter. And while Jonas Gustavsson was touted as the best goalie not in the NHL before the Leafs pried him away from his home land of Sweden, he has yet to show that greatness for extended periods of time.
On that note, Leafs fans should be questioning who the starter should be in net if the Leafs are to make the playoffs this coming spring.
Reimer took his promotion into the NHL as a gift and ran with it last year. He moved above everyone on the depth chart and stole the starting job away from both J.S. Giguere and Gustavsson. He had Leafs fans thinking they could be on the brink of a playoff berth last year, and this year he was unanimously given the number one goalie tag.
He was 4-0-1 in his first five games this year. Then Brain Gionta struck like a bat out of hell and promptly sent Reimer to the DL. It's safe to say Reimer has not been the same since. In the games since his return Reimer has gone 3-3-2. If you take out the last week in which he went 2-0-1 against the Kings, Sabers and Islanders he is 1-3-1—not terrific stats.
Who would you start the rest of the way?
What makes matters worse is that the Leafs were right near the top in the conference before his injury. Now they are sitting in sixth place and consistently finding themselves just staying ahead of teams outside of the playoff picture. Reimers GAA is still under 3.00 but there is no statistic to measure how many of them were "soft goals".
I think that has been the biggest problem for Reimer since his return. He has been giving up the secondary rebounds. He hasn’t been quick enough on his push-off in the butterfly; key example was the Panthers third goal that just slipped by him and he couldn't get his pad out in time.
I'm not saying Reimer is a bad goalie now, I just think people were very quick to jump on his effectiveness last season, and now he is showing his real capabilities. He is probably still not completely 100 percent in terms of instinct and awareness since his injury.
I don't doubt that he will get better, but for the sake of the Leafs season, should they automatically give him the number one job or should they make him earn it?
As for Jonas Gustavsson, he seems to be Ron Wilson’s scapegoat for why the Leafs don't play well. I don't know what Wilson has against "The Monster" but he needs to start giving him more credit. Gustavsson showed a lot of integrity when Reimer was injured.
The Leafs called up Ben Scrivens to be Gustavssons back up and they let him start in some big games. Gustavsson didn't let that affect his confidence too much and he stood his ground through most of November. While he didn't exactly run away with the number one job he kept the Leafs alive and in the thick of the playoff race.
He came through with big wins in late November and early December. While his stats aren't something to boast about, he does have more wins than losses with a 9-7-0 record. His GAA seems a bit deceiving at 3.28 compared to Reimer's, but he has played about 80 minutes more than Reimer which is about four more periods.
With that in consideration, his save percentage of .898 is only a few marginal points behind Reimer's at .901. While Gustavsson hasn't been what Leafs fans dreamed of, he has never been told, "You are the starting goalie, run with it."
Should the Leafs choose to give Gustavsson the bulk of the games the rest of the way, maybe Gustavsson can change his fortunes around and show this team why the Leafs wanted to pry him away so badly.
With 36 games played and more than half the season remaining, the Maple Leafs management has a decision to make. Do they go with the struggling Reimer, or do they hand the reins over to often outworked Gustavsson. The ReimMinister of Defense or the Monster?
Or do they pull off what they did back in their Stanley Cup winning days and utilise both to the best of their abilities, like with Terry Sawchuck and Johnny Bower? Can the Leafs ever return to those glory days? It will first and foremost depend on which guy they believe can be the best at stopping the puck.