Given the early-season struggles of incumbent starting netminder Vesa Toskala, speculation is mounting that Jonas Gustavsson could receive his first NHL start as early as Tuesday night when the Leafs face their Ontario rivals, the Ottawa Senators.
Early speculation is Toskala may not be all the way back, mentally or physically, from the groin and hip surgeries he endured last season. While it is obviously far too early to annoint Gustavsson the starter for the rest of the season (he has yet to play a full game in the NHL), it is not unreasonable to expect that in the wake of Toskala’s struggles he could receive an extended look, in the form of more early-season starts than were initially planned.
In Monday’s Toronto Star, Paul Hunter reported that although coach Ron Wilson has made up his mind who will get the start against Ottawa, he will not divulge his decision just yet. Is this perhaps a ploy to throw off the Senators’ preparation? Or is he doing it to protect a goaltender facing his first start from the relentless crush of the media, and the seemingly-endless hounding that would surely take place if Gustavsson was indeed revealed to be the starter?
To his credit, Wilson has refrained from pinning the Washout In Washington on Toskala’s shoulders, something which lends some credence to a counter theory: that Toskala may still be in line to receive the majority of the playing time — at least throughout the early part of the season.
“It’s so unfair just to point fingers at the goalie when other guys were getting beat up the ice, 3-on-1s. The goalie didn’t yell at someone to fall down or make a bad decision so you’re facing a 3-on-1,” said the coach.
“The red light goes on every time there’s a mistake. We’ve got some defencemen who played like Peewee hockey players but they’re not under the microscope the way our goalie is.”
Chris Johnston, in an article appearing in Monday’s Guelph Mercury, reports that if Gustavsson receives the start (as many expect he will), he is definitely up for the challenge:
Goaltender Jonas Gustavsson, dubbed â€œThe Monsterâ€ by his former Swedish league coach, is quietly sitting on the sidelines and looking forward to his first career NHL start.
It could come as soon as Tuesday night against the Ottawa Senators, although Leafs coach Ron Wilson has yet to reveal his goaltending plans. Gustavsson is good to go if Wilson elects to start him over Vesa Toskala.
â€œIf [coach Ron Wilson] wants me to play, of course I’m ready,â€ Gustavsson said Monday after practice. â€œThat’s why I’m here. I want to play and try to contribute something to the team. â€¦ I feel I’m ready.â€
Johnston goes on to write about how well Gustavsson has acclimated to life in North America.Â Â For the most part, the transition seems to have gone well … except for one relatively minor hiccup:
One setback came when he failed a written test for his driver’s license because he didn’t realize there were some different road rules between the countries. Teammate Garnet Exelby has been nice enough to drive him from his downtown condo to the team’s suburban practice rink on off days.
Hey, nobody’s perfect.Â Â Â But so long as Gustavsson has spent more time studying up on NHL snipers than he has the rules of the road, he ought to be just fine.Â Â And as Johnston reports, his demeanor certainly inspires confidence that he will be up to the task when his number is called.
Very little seems to faze [Gustavsson]. After missing most of training camp because of minor heart surgery, he didn’t allow a goal over three periods of pre-season action against the Detroit Red Wings.
The soft-spoken goaltender comes across as laidback during interviews and has a dry wit â€” two characteristics that should serve him well in a market where Wilson says the team is under an â€œelectron microscope.â€
Gustavsson is confident that he’ll have some memorable moments as well. It may end up taking a little time so Gustavsson intends to remain patient until given the opportunity.
â€œOf course you want to play,â€ he said. â€œBut that’s not up to me to decide. That’s up to the coaches.â€
What do you think? Will The Monster see his first start on Tuesday night against Ottawa? Or should Vesa Toskala be given one more chance to regain his confidence?Â Â And how much of Toskala’s struggles in the first two games do you attribute to the goaltender, as opposed to the defence in front of him?
Quote of the day:
“I could have Turk Broda and if it’s 3-0 after the first period, you’re going to make a change like that.”
- Ron Wilson, on replacing Vesa Toskala with Jonas Gustavsson during Saturday night’s game in Washington.