Are Goaltending Issues Looming For the Toronto Maple Leafs?

July 21st, 2011 2 Comments

Last season the Toronto Maple Leafs finished the 82-game schedule with the 25th ranked goals against per game at 2.99. It was a modest improvement from the Blue and Whites 3.21 goals against average in 2009-10 when the Leafs ranked 29th overall, but hardly good enough to be considered an elite defensive team.

The off-season saw veteran goaltender J.S. Giguere take his act to the Colorado Avalanche, leaving sophomore James Reimer and the oft-injured Jonas “the monster” Gustavsson to assume the goaltending duties in 2011-12.

Reimer recorded a 20-10-5 record with a 2.60 goals against average, .921 save percentage and three shutouts. All-in-all, Reimer’s numbers were excellent, especially when you consider Giguere’s 11-11-4 record (2.87 GAA, .900 SV%) and Gustavsson’s 6-13-2 record (3.29 GAA, .890 save percentage).

The inconsistent play from Giguere and Gustavsson played a huge roll in the Buds missing the playoffs last season, but the overall play of the team, both offensively and defensively, (especially in the first half of the season) was the biggest culprit.

Off-season additions Cody Franson and John-Michael Liles represent two offensive defensemen that should be able to move the puck out of the Maple Leafs zone with relative ease. Where Franson and Liles may struggle is on the backend, but as the saying goes, a good defense is a good offense, or is it vice-versa?

Either way, Liles and Franson should be able to supply adequate defense, but don’t expect their presence to contribute to a huge decline in goals against. Both players are known for their offensive abilities and, while neither one is viewed as a defensive liability, Scott Stevens they are not.

Up front Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke brought in the likes of Tim Connolly, Matthew Lombardi and Phillippe Dupuis to help bolster the offense. Connolly and Dupuis play well in the defensive zone and Connolly is known to be a good contributor to the penalty kill.

With a 77.4% success rate, the Leafs ranked 28th overall on the penalty kill last season. Any improvements they can make defensively (both five-on-five and on the PK) should translate into fewer goals against and, in the end, more wins.

But what about the goaltending duo of Reimer and Gustavsson- are they good enough?

Reimer (23) will try to avoid the sophomore curse that many goaltenders experience while Gustavsson (26) will try to recapture his confidence and stay healthy.

Reimer’s calm demeanor and confidence should help him adjust to the starters role, as should the declaration that Reimer will be the Maple Leafs number one goalie.

Reimer’s .921 save percentage ranked him 11thoverall last season. Reimer’s low save percentage combined with his 26th ranked GAA, gives the Leafs every confidence that he can make the adjustment to starter for the entire 82-game season.

The Monster is a whole other story…

Let’s be honest here, as Forest Gump once said, Gustavsson “is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get!”

Health issues, the inability to adapt to goaltending coach Francois Allaire’s butterfly style and a lack of confidence from his teammates and himself contributed to a 2010-11 season which saw The Monster finish with a 6-13-2 record, .890 save percentage and a goals against average of 3.29.

While not officially ranked, Gustavsson’s high GAA and less than impressive save percentage were amongst the worst in the NHL and a regression from Gustavsson’s 2.87 GAA and .902 save percentage in 2009-10.

A quick look around the NHL suggests the Maple Leafs goaltending duo would probably garner a lot of doubts from those in NHL circles. Let’s face it, if Reimer falters the Blue and White will have to rely on Gustavsson, which doesn’t exactly bring about a lot of confidence.

Suffice to say, with Burke electing not to bring in a veteran goaltender the Leafs seem to believe that Reimer and Gustavsson can get the job done. That said, is it foolish to expect a 23 and 26 year-old goaltender to lead one of the NHL’s youngest teams to the playoffs?

At this point, given the direction of the team, Burke really had little choice but to give Reimer and Gustavsson a chance to prove they belong. Stop gap solutions such as J.S. Giguere can work for a little while, but his presence did little to help Gustavsson’s development.

And let’s not forget, until Giguere got injured, the Leafs seemed happy to let Giguere take the reins. If not for the injuries to Giggy the Leafs may not have discovered just how good Reimer is. Perhaps with a little more playing time and a firm commitment to his role Gustavsson can find his way as Reimer did a year ago?

One thing is for sure, both Reimer and Gustavsson are expected to endure a measure of growing pains this season, and there is still a level of uncertainty attached to the Maple Leafs goaltending. Only great results will change that sentiment.

***This article appeared on Foxsports.com- July 21st, 2011***

Until next time,

Peace!

2 Comments

  1. Eric Warren says:

    Always good to read Mr Ritter. Of more concern to me will be the reaction of head coach Ron Wilson, he tends to give up on goalies after one or two bad outings and I can’t stand the fact that he refused to name a goalie as the starter last year. They say the title means nothing but tell that to a rookie NHL goalie trying to regain his confidence…..

  2. MarkRitter says:

    Thanks Mr. Warren! Always good to hear from you. Your point is very valid think Wilson will select Reimer as his number one, but yeah, it would be best if he announced it, the optics are just better and would give Reims a shot of confidence. Be well brother!

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