After backstopping the Red Wings to a redemptive win against the Boston Bruins on Monday, Gustavsson—on about 15 minutes' notice—delivered arguably the best goaltending performance in Detroit thus far this season the very next night against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
This is impressive work for any backup goalie in the NHL, but doubly impressive for Gustavsson given his utterly forgettable first year in Detroit last season.
Limited to just seven appearances in 2012-13 due largely to a groin injury, Gustavsson underwhelmed with a bloated 2.92 goals-against average and a flaccid .879 save percentage.
More was expected of Gustavsson in his first year in Detroit, but failed expectations are unfortunately nothing new for the Swedish netminder.
Gustavsson arrived in the NHL in 2009 amid a great deal of fanfare.
Signed by the Toronto Maple Leafs in July of 2009 by former general manager Brian Burke, Gustavsson was among the most coveted and pursued free agents in the NHL that summer.
As was originally reported by ESPN's Pierre LeBrun, Gustavsson had not one but four offers to choose from. Colorado, San Jose, Dallas and Toronto all viewed the Swedish Elite League star as a future No. 1 netminder and made their pitches accordingly.
Burke made the most compelling pitch and in so doing, proudly announced to his fan base that “the Monster” had arrived in Toronto.
However, as monsters go, Gustavsson never truly terrified. A few standout performances aside, Gustavsson’s career in Toronto’s net ended up being more memorable for how unmemorable it was—particularly in relation to how unforgettable it was supposed to be.
|Gustavsson's Career Stats in Toronto|
|2009-10||16 wins||24 losses||2.87 GAA||.902 SV%|
|2010-11||6 wins||15 losses||3.29 GAA||.890 SV%|
|2011-12||17 wins||21 losses||2.92 GAA||.902 SV%|
When the Monster (who by this point was more Grover than Godzilla) arrived in Detroit last summer, expectations were realistic given his career statistics—he was a serviceable NHL backup who could find new life with a new team.
As it turned out, even these decidedly modest expectations were too optimistic.
As the Red Wings were being eviscerated in their 2012-13 season opener against the St. Louis Blues, starting goalie Jimmy Howard was pulled and Gustavsson was put in to stop the bleeding. After the switch, the Red Wings promptly bled out.
Gustavsson’s groin pulled him out of the lineup shortly after. Weeks later, when he did return, no one was particularly happy to have him back.
Gustavsson proved to be a less-than-serviceable backup in 2012-13, which required the Red Wings to rely entirely on Jimmy Howard game in and game out.
Gustavsson’s first season in Detroit made the expectations for this season painfully low. It also made the reality of Detroit’s goaltending situation clear - Jimmy Howard is a workhorse, and he’ll need to be if the Red Wings plan on winning more games than they lose.
Jimmy Howard started 42 of 48 games for Detroit last season.
Were that same formula applied to this season, the Red Wings would be looking for 73 starts out of 82 games. Workhorse or not, that’s a burden no goalie can bear while trying to remain primed for a long playoff run.
Nevertheless, a long playoff run is exactly what is expected in Detroit this season. Howard will surely be the man in net every time the playoff puck drops, and he will need to be sharp and fresh every time it does.
Which bring us back to Gustavsson.
As Detroit's back-up, he not only needs to be counted on to start 20 or so games this season, but also provide reasonable assurance to his team that they will end up with two points at the end of those games.
Were Gustavsson's play this season shaping up to be as forgettable as it was in 2012-13, head coach Mike Babcock would be left with little choice but to ride Howard in net game after game.
That was necessary last year, but this year looks to be shaping up quite differently.
Surely, Gustavsson will not win every game he starts. But, his return to form in net suggests that he will provide the Red Wings with considerably more hope that he is capable of winning those games than he did last season.
As Detroit's back-up goalie, Gustavsson needs to provide the Red Wings with the opportunity to not only win games during the regular season, but spell Howard often enough so that he will be healthy and rested during the postseason.
Gustavsson's resurgence in net is surely an unexpected surprise, but it is also necessary for the Red Wings long-term success this season.
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