Gustavsson Close to Return, Leafs Should Stick with a Hot Toskala

Jon Neely@@iamjonneelyAnalyst IDecember 15, 2009

TORONTO - DECEMBER 14:  Vesa Toskala #35 and Jason Blake #55 of the Toronto Maple Leafs share a laugh after defeating the Ottawa Senators during action December 14, 2009 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)
Abelimages/Getty Images

The good news has been coming in bunches for the Toronto Maple Leafs during the past 15 games or so, and Monday was no different.

Not only did they stretch their home winning streak to four games after a 3-2 victory over the rival Ottawa Senators, but rookie goaltender Jonas Gustavsson was seen back on the ice in the morning skate for the first time after his second heart surgery in three months.

Expected to be out only a short time, Gustavsson seems to be recovering right on schedule, just as the doctors and the team had hoped, and he should be back in game-shape soon enough. But once he is able to return to the lineup, the Leafs have a difficult decision to make.

For what might be the first time this season, the Leafs may want to leave Vesa Toskala in net for as long as his hot-streak can continue, since his great play is a huge reason for the team's sudden surge up the standings.

The Leafs have gone 9-3-1 in their past 13 games since a tough five-game losing streak in mid-November. Many saw the losing streak as yet another nail in the proverbial coffin of their season, but since then, not only have they quieted critics, but the Leafs sit a mere two points out of a playoff spot.

And much of that can be attributed to the resurgence of Toskala.

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In his past five games he is 4-1 with a .914 Save percentage and has let in more than two goals only twice in that time, which includes a 34-save performance against the first-place Washington Capitals.

Since the start of the season, the team has battled through injuries to all three net minders who have played so far, but the main theme has been that when Gustavsson is healthy he plays. With Gustavsson just days away from a return to the ice, the feeling for Coach Ron Wilson might be to throw his prized rookie goalie right back into the fire.

But that would be the wrong thing to do.

With Toskala playing at the top of his game and the team finally putting together a serious string of wins, it wouldn't be right to switch things up now. As the saying goes, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." And right now, the Leafs ain't broke.

Gustavsson has a ton of potential, and at times this season has shown he is capable of stealing games and being the starting goalie the Leafs have been looking for, but there is no need to rush him right back into action.

If it were possible, the Leafs brass might want to send him down to the Toronto Marlies, the team's AHL affiliate, for a conditioning stint and playing time, but the Marlies are on the road until Boxing Day, and having Gustavsson ride the bus for that long might kill his moral.

So, unfortunately for the kid, he should have to wait his turn. It would be ridiculous of the Leafs to mess with what Toskala has going right now, and with his future in question after this season, it isn't such a bad thing to have him pile up a few wins that will go along way in his trade value later on.

The future is bright for Gustavsson, but that doesn’t mean his future has to start this week. He will have plenty of time to cement his spot in the crease full-time.

This isn't to say that Gustavsson shouldn't get any playing time at all until Toskala lets in a few bad goals and all confidence is lost in him once again. The Leafs play a back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday, and if he's ready by then, one of those games would be a situation in which he might get to start.

But if the team wants to keep up their winning ways and crack the top-eight in the Eastern Conference, it should stick with Toskala handling the majority of the load for now. He finally has the city back on his side and is doing what he has to do to give the Leafs a chance to win every single night—no matter who the opponent might be.

And that's all you can ask of your goalie to give you—a chance to win.

No doubt Gustavsson will get his opportunity to be the No. 1 guy again this season, as things in Leaf land have a tendency to turn on a dime. But for now, Toronto is Toskala's team, and it should stay that way.

With "the Monster" lurking in the shadows, it may push Toskala even harder, and force him to play better in order to keeps his number one spot.

The good news is a huge relief for a city that has dealt with its fair share of the opposite this season, and the team is certainly enjoying the wins that come along with the news.

It seems like an eternity since it happened last, but Leaf Nation is finally enjoying Vesa Toskala too.

And that is good news Leaf fans can get used to.

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