Toronto Maple Leafs: Jonas Gustavsson's Struggles Show Need for Strong Backup

Adam DavisCorrespondent IOctober 27, 2011

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 19: Jonas Gustavsson #50 of the Toronto Maple Leafs takes a break during his 7-0 loss to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on January 19, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

When Montreal Canadiens forward Brian Gionta knocked into Toronto Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer last Saturday night, he not only further ignited a heated rivalry, but he also helped the Leafs organization notice the cracks in its collective hull. 

To make matters worse, Reimer went down right before a difficult stretch in Toronto's schedule during a time when every win matters. 

The Leafs already lost to the Flyers without Reimer, allowing 40-year-old Jaromir Jagr to score his first goal of the season. They face the New York Rangers on Thursday night and the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night. 

Reimer is already scratched out of the Rangers game, and his start against the Pens isn't 100 percent ensured as of yet. 

Their top option in net right now is third-year goaltender Jonas Gustavsson. He hasn't impressed all that much since he started seriously playing for the Leafs a couple of seasons back, and didn't impress all that much against Philly this week either. 

Heading into this season, one of the main issues with Toronto's roster was placing its collective hopes on Reimer's young shoulders. The problem with that is when Reimer gets injured, there is no one capable to step in and lead the team. 

Gustavsson only has 23 wins in 68 career games played and is certainly not impressing any fans this season. His less-than-inspiring play has prompted more scrutiny since several other backup goalies in the league are pushing for the starting position on their teams, much like Reimer did last season.

When future Hall of Fame goalie Martin Brodeur went down with injury, second-string man Johan Hedberg stepped up and led the New Jersey Devils to a respectable 4-2-1 record. Down south in Tampa, Mathieu Garon is 3-1-1 in games he started in place of 43-year-old Dwayne Roloson.

What Toronto needs right now is a reliable backup goalie—preferably one that is only good enough to help in relief and not a guy that will steal the spotlight considering the contract that Reimer just inked. However, that would seem to be a pretty tough task to check off of Toronto's free agency shopping list, considering the other glaring needs that the Leafs are faced with. 

There is another way to look at it, though. The Leafs could score more goals.

Reimer's goals against average this season is 2.58. Against the Flyers, the Toronto offense scored two goals. Doing the math, Toronto still would have lost even with Reimer was in net. Now by continuing the equation, Toronto could make whomever it has in net look good as long as it scores more goals (for reference to this, see the Washington Capitals). 

Garon has Stamkos, St. Louis and Lecavalier in front of him and Hedberg has Parise and Kovalchuk. Toronto has no one that good. It does, however, have decent players that are capable of scoring goals. Considering Reimer's injury is not long term and their cap space should be directed at forwards and not another goalie contract, Toronto needs to step up in many aspects.

While that may be true, Gustavsson is still not an elite backup, nor is he a strong backup. Hedberg and Garon are playing for starting spots, but unless Gustavsson shapes up he'll be fighting for backup duties. 

Save more goals while the team scores more goals. Seems simple enough. Or, maybe we could look at it as stop more goals so the team doesn't need to score more goals. Yeah, I like that one better.