A new year, same as the old one. Goaltending has been a constant battle for the Leafs since the lockout. Last season, James Reimer gave some hope to a goaltending deprived fanbase only to have it be dashed away the very next year. The Leafs‘ goaltending in 2011-12 was atrocious and there’s no getting around that. So in evaluating goalies, threads must be found that can indicate potential future improved play. Let’s see if any of those threads can be found.
Those are some Philadelphia numbers. I elected to take Rynnas off the list due to having appeared in only 2 games. Each goalie had their moments, with the most heavily publicized one being Gustavsson’s January, where he had a .926 SV% and a 2.08 GAA. Unfortunately, the other months for Gus were as follows: .888, .906, .895, .880 and .894. Scrivens went through what is sometimes referred to as the call up effect. Goalies (and sometimes skaters) have a tendency to play quite well upon the initial call up, as seen in Scrivens’ 38 saves in his first NHL game. Part of that is also that he played Columbus, but he did it again in his fourth game against St. Louis. We saw the same effect last year with Reimer, with the confidence he gained from that initial experience powering him through the conclusion of the season. Indeed, being a good goalie often comes down to having a tough mind and Reimer will need to rekindle that confidence before next year.
As you can see, both Reimer and Scrivens are far superior to Gustavsson at even strength. It has always been about powerplay goals against and that’s the hurdle that Reimer must face in his immediate future. Reimer’s .808 save percentage when his team is shorthanded is second worst in the NHL among goalies with at least 20 games played, with only Steve Mason and his atrocious .796 topping Reimer. Gustavsson’s numbers would be close to acceptable if his even strength play was far better than it is. That said, 12 players with at least 20 games played managed to get a .900 save percentage or higher when shorthanded, with Cory Schneider leading the way at a ludicrous .959.
The Leafs were horrible when a man down to be sure, but that does not tell the whole story. In the 25 games before Reimer came back from his “whiplash” injury, the Leafs had suffered 22 PKGA on 96 opportunities for a PK% of around 74%. Horrible to be sure, but in the following 13 games, of which Reimer played in 11, the Leafs batted at around 63%. It should come as no surprise that the Leafs lost 8 of these 13 games. Reimer’s December PK stats are almost historically bad. Though it says something about the ineptitude of the Leafs’ goaltending when you can say, “well at least Reimer didn’t kick a puck going wide into his own net in overtime.”
As for shots, the shots against seem to speak to the confidence the team had in Gustavsson, allowing fewer shots when he was in goal. In contrast, Reimer and Scrivens had fairly even stats in this regard. A difference of ~2 shots per game doesn’t seem like much, but it can mean a whole lot over the course of a season. Additionally, the team seemed to want to help Scrivens out more due to his junior status, getting nearly 3 more shots per game when he was in net compared to the other two. If only they could do that every game.
So the question now becomes ‘who do we have in goal next season?’ and the answer isn’t difficult: not Reimer and Gustavsson as your tandem. Gustavsson ran his course in Toronto. My guess is that he either goes home to be a hero in Sweden again or he signs cheap with a team like Columbus in an effort to save his NHL career. Either way, it would be a mistake to bring him back to Toronto. Scrivens needs some more AHL seasoning, but I like the potential I’ve seen in him.
Reimer needs to stay, but this time he needs insulation. His injury clearly affected his confidence, as he was playing just fine before Gionta knocked him out. Confidence will become sparse for young players from time to time, but when Gustavsson is your insulation, the pressure is back on you to improve immediately. The Leafs desperately need a veteran goalie who can take the reins and start 50 games, with Reimer picking up the remaining 30. There are options all over the place: Tomas Vokoun, Josh Harding and even the oft rumoured Roberto Luongo. Though Luongo may or may not have the mental fortitude to be a Cup winner, he would almost certainly play extremely well during the regular season, giving Reimer some freedom to grow. This is Burke’s moment, his chance to fix the team. A good goaltender will turn this team into a playoff team, though not a true contender. The playoffs are a good place to start.