Fresh off a Thursday night win over Columbus where he stopped 38 of 39 shots, Ben Scrivens will once again start for the Toronto Maple Leafs as they face the defending champion Bruins tonight.
It’s an interesting choice for head coach Ron Wilson. Jonas Gustavsson has improved his play since James Reimer went down to injury – after getting hammered in Philadelphia he played well against New York and Pittsburgh, and less well against Ottawa and New Jersey. That opened the door for Reimer to get the start against the Blue Jackets, and given his strong performance it makes sense to go back to him.
The only way it would make sense to go back to Gustavsson would be if Wilson really believed he was the superior goaltender, something that does not appear to be the case. From the James Mirtle article linked above:
My sense is the organization is moving towards a situation where Reimer and Scrivens will be their 1A and 1B goaltenders next season once Gustavsson’s contract expires. Because he has a one-way deal, however, Gustavsson’s sticking around until then and will have to show he’s a better option than Scrivens.
The decision to start Scrivens here is just for a single game, and a bad performance on his part could see the return of Gustavsson. Even a good performance, for that matter, could see the return of Gustavsson if Wilson decides that it is in the best interests of the team.
The other issue is that the contest between Gustavsson and Scrivens for the Leafs’ starting job is being played out on borrowed time. There is still no clear timeline for the return of James Reimer – Ron Wilson says that he’s “hit a plateau in his recovery” – but at some point he will be back and then the Leafs will need to make a choice between Scrivens and Gustavsson for the number two spot.
On Gustavsson’s side is his one-way contract and the fact that he’s not playing quite as badly as he did in his first few outings. Weighed against him is a decidedly mediocre NHL career. Scrivens lacks both the one-way contract and the NHL track record, but his work in college and in the minors has been exemplary and there is a case to be made that he is the better of the two goalies at this moment in time. If he can take advantage of Reimer’s injury and put together a run of good games in the NHL, that case would be bolstered considerably.
The other item working in Scrivens’ favour is that the Leafs have played so well in the early going. Their 9-3-1 record sits them atop the Eastern Conference, and the expectation is that they’ll still be playing hockey games when the regular season ends. If Scrivens can show he gives the team a better chance of winning on the nights that he starts than Gustavsson does, can the Leafs really return him to the minors?
Gustavsson’s contract, while an obstacle, isn’t exactly a boat anchor – he earns $1.35 million this season, and there are plenty of examples of players with more lucrative contracts being dispatched to the AHL. The fact that the deal ends this summer and that Gustavsson may have been pushed out of the Leafs long-term plans by the emergence of Reimer and the presence of promising youngsters like Scrivens and Jussi Rynnas can only make the possibility of an AHL demotion stronger.
Still, it all hinges on Scrivens play over the next little while. Last time Gustavsson played the Bruins, he coughed up six goals, and while they’re mired in the Eastern Conference basement for the moment they did win the Stanley Cup last season. A good game against them tonight will make it easier for Wilson to start Scrivens over Gustavsson again going forward.