With a tip of the hat to the second-funniest film of all-time, Airplane!, I have a simple goaltending question for Leafs’ fans: Who’s number one? Who’s the head man, the top dog, the big cheese?
When J-S Giguère’s groin has returned to health, is he still Ron Wilson’s guy? Does he step right back into the routine of playing two out of every three games? Because that’s what he was doing before leaving a game in the third period ten days ago against Nashville. Two games Jiggy, one game Gustavsson. Two games Jiggy, one game Gustavsson. Is Giguère still the Leafs’ number one netminder?
My strong motive for asking is that, as I write this, the Leafs have just been outshot 16-5 in the first period at HSBC Arena in Buffalo. The only reason they are down just two goals is because of Jonas Gustavsson. We’ve seen this movie before. The Monster has been incredible. In fact, he’s been that way since he stepped in during that Nashville game and preserved a bizarre comeback win for Toronto.
Gustavsson is not the same netminder that began last season as a rookie for the Leafs. His game has changed dramatically. Leafs’ goaltending coach François Allaire has, clearly, been insisting The Monster be in the right position, not just some of the time, ALL of the time. His style is not reflex-based; it’s built on a foundation of positioning. And it’s working like crazy right now.
When The Monster was signed by Toronto in July 2009, he said, "I’m going to try to steal as many games from Vesa Toskala as I can. I’m a goalie and I want to play…I know the best goalie gets the ice time and if I play good I’m going to get the chance. We will be good teammates and try to push ourselves, but my goal is to be the number one goalie." He may finally have achieved his goal.
Giguère has played well this season, but one of his biggest problems is that he’s let in suspect goals. None more so than the horrifically long, game-winning slapshot gaffe by Mason Raymond in a November 13th loss to the Canucks. Giguère is slower than he used to be. He looks older and crankier. Gustavsson is none of those things.
Gustavsson has given up almost a half-a-goal-per-game less than Jiggy. Gustavsson’s save percentage is about 30 points higher. Frankly, that might end the argument right there.
There is an age-old axiom that, in sports, you can’t lose your standing on the team due to injury. I think that rule is about to be broken in the Toronto Maple Leafs’ net.
The funniest film is, of course, Caddyshack.