All of a sudden, goaltending is turning into an issue for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
With J.S. Giguere out for at least two weeks with a sore groin, Jonas Gustavsson will again be looked on to carry the load in net.
But unlike the last time Giguere was sidelined — when hockey fans in these parts were looking forward to seeing what Gustavsson could do with a heavier workload — this time, there’s more apprehension.
Gustavsson hasn’t been himself lately. He’s been battling the puck and making mental mistakes.
After Giguere pulled his groin Nov. 16 against Nashville, Gustavsson held the fort for the rest of the game and won two of the next three, allowing just four goals in that span.
But he’s only won one game since — a Dec. 6 comeback in Washington — and finds himself on a 1-6-1 slide, having allowed 33 goals in his last nine appearances. It adds up to a 4.42 goals-against average and .849 save percentage since Nov. 26.
“The last couple of games there have been a couple of goals where I couldn’t see the puck, or the puck hits the stick or something like that,” said Gustavsson, who will have a chance to redeem himself on Boxing Day in New Jersey. “Some weeks, those pucks stay out of the net, some weeks those go in.”
No job in the NHL is permanent; and given the number of goalie sticks Gustavsson has slammed over his own crossbar in recent weeks, this is a fact of which he’s keenly aware. If there’s a position where the Maple Leafs believe themselves to be deep as an organization, it’s in net.
James Reimer, who got his first taste of the NHL Monday when Gustavsson was pulled after allowing five goals on 18 shots, is next in line on the depth chart.
“We’re very confident in James,” said head coach Ron Wilson. “He might and he probably should play a game in here somewhere. I’ll withhold judgment until after we’ve played the New Jersey game.”