In the summer of 2009, when Brian Burke went to Sweden to try and convince the Sedins that Toronto is the place to be, only to be beat to the punch by Canucks’ GM Mike Gillis. Burke wasn’t discouraged though as he was also in Sweden to sign whom many thought to be the next Henrik Lundqvist, a “Monster” 6′ 3″ goaltender that could follow the footsteps of Belfour and Cujo and become the next undrafted star goalie in Toronto.
Now in his third season with the Maple Leafs, Gustavsson has gone through 3 heart ablations, a conditioning stint in the minors, and from being the goalie of the future to the backup of 23 years old James Reimer. A lot of drama for a soft-spoken 26 years old Swede.
Entering a new season when most believed Ben Scrivens should have won the job as the backup with a spectacular preseason capped of by a 0.95 GAA and a 958 SV%. However, management was determined to give Gustavsson another shot. Now with one start and one relieve appearance Gustavsson is 1-1 with a 5.35 GAA and 852 SV%. Although he won the game on Saturday against the Habs, Gustavsson struggled, with 2 stoppable shots high glove that he simply missed. On both shots Gustavsson was well out of his crease, so why did they go in?
Confidence and Coaching.
The first goal 29 seconds into the second, Andrei Kostitsyn rifled a perfect wrister off the far post. On the replay, Gustavsson was clearly as tense as a rock on that shot, simply relying on positioning to stop the puck, and that’s not good enough for “the Monster”. Gustavsson isn’t J.S. Giguere or James Reimer, he simply doesn’t have the upper body size and build to play the blocking style. Gustavsson is at his most effective when he is confident with his instincts and uses a combination of his size and athleticism.
The second goal by Cammalleri was a slapper from the circles that was shot across the body, as most goaltenders would attest to, a shot high across the body can easily be stopped by keeping the hands in front of the body and not pulling back and creating holes as the shot comes. Gustavsson pulled back and missed a tough but stoppable puck. Gustavsson’s struggles can be linked to his confidence, or lack thereof, but could also be connected to a very questionable choice by Leafs’ management.
One question that has rarely been brought up with Gustavsson is why hasn’t the Leafs hired his goalie coach in Farjestad? It is fascinating how of the brilliant minds that make up the Leafs management staff, no one ever questions Francois Allaire’s coaching. Allaire is a goaltending legend, there is no doubt about that, but there is no “set” way to defend the net, and every tender and every coach thinks differently, and maybe Allaire just isn’t right coach for Gustavsson. Clearly Gustavsson found success with his Farjestad goalie coach, so why not bring him in and have one goalie coach per goaltender? This very same mistake was made by the Leafs with Vesa Toskala when they forced Toskala to adapt to Allaire’s butterfly style, and as we know, the rest is history. Many NHL teams employ this technique and often leads to 2 different styles of goaltenders both utilizing their full potential.
Gustavsson is clearly struggling to find his “Monster” form and there are many reasons for that, he may just have to adapt the swagger of someone like Carey Price, the confidence of a James Reimer, and the be in the tutelage of his old goalie coach.