LEAFS A MESS IN NET

Steve Lansky
January 25 2011 05:32PM

That's not your kitchen. It's the Leafs' goaltending. I think we can all agree that the Leafs’ net situation, right now, is a mess. With James Reimer getting the Tuesday night start in Tampa, the Leafs appear not to know which way to turn for the netminder of choice following the All-Star Break. Will Reimer spend the rest of this season with the big club? Will J-S Giguère find his old form and have a string of strong starts in the second half? And will a stint with the Marlies help Jonas Gustavsson stop his slide into NHL netminding oblivion (‘cause that’s where he’s headed)?

When this season started, I felt very strongly that the Leafs’ netminding this year only had to be above average, and the club would succeed. I still feel that way. Problem is that the netminding started strongly, then has plummeted into the dumper. That 7-0 loss in Madison Square Garden blew Gustavsson’s remaining confidence to smithereens. And don’t give me that “He was hung out to dry” bull. He didn’t make a save. Period.

Then, Monday night in Carolina, Giguère dropped the ball…yet again. If someone has an image of Giguère making a stop WITHOUT being on his knees, please let me know. Then admit how you Photoshopped the thing. When Tim Brent tied the game at three, with two Herculean efforts – a beauty backhand and that Darryl Sittleresque fake-the-slapper deal on Cam Ward – the Leafs were back in the game!

Right up until Brandon Sutter came down his off wing and snapped yet another weak one past a prone Giguère. Sportsnet’s Greg Millen pointed out twice during the night that Giguère “seemed to have lost his net.” I’m not sure he even knows he in net.

Not since 2003 (Devils, Martin Brodeur) has an NHL team won a Stanley Cup with an elite netminder in net. I’m not sure there are any left in the NHL anymore. Oh, there are good goaltenders out there – Ward, Tim Thomas, Ryan Miller, Jonas Hiller, Carey Price. But how many of them are great year-in and year-out, without fail? Answer: none.

Look at the netminders who’ve won the Cup since 2004 – Nikolai Khabibulin, Ward, Giguère, Marc-André Fleury, Chris Osgood and Antti Niemi. How many of those guys are going to the Hockey Hall of Fame? Answer: none.

All you need to win the Stanley Cup these days is a good netminder who has a hot streak from April to June. In today’s game, any NHL netminder can do that. That’s why the Leafs shouldn’t angst over their goaltending future. Find two guys who can play well enough, during the regular season, to get the club into the playoffs – then pray. It’s what all the other teams do.

Did you think the Philadelphia Flyers were going to reach the 2010 Final? Michael Leighton did. Hot streak to the ultimate. Throughout this entire season, Leafs’ netminders have only had three streaks during which they started more than three games in a row.

Gustavsson started eight in a row when Jiggy suffered his first groin injury in the middle of November. Reimer was called up, but didn’t play. Then Gustavsson went another six when Jiggy went down again. And, of course, you remember the western trip on which Reimer won three out of his four starts earlier this month. Nobody’s played well enough to be annointed number one.

The point is regular-season goaltending is important, but it can be just enough to get you to the playoffs. Then it’s gotta shine. Can James Reimer do that? Probably not this year…but maybe next. Just don’t tear his confidence to shreds, OK Ron Wilson?

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Steve Lansky's first exposure to the game was at storied Maple Leaf Gardens, running downstairs at the end of every period just to watch the great Dave Keon walk off the ice to the room. A decade later, while he was still in high school, Oilers' head coach Glen Sather asked Lansky, "Hey, how'd you like to be our team statistician?" In 1983, at the age of 22, Lansky became the youngest producer in the history of CBC's Hockey Night in Canada, giving him a front-row seat to the Edmonton Oilers' dynasty. Lansky also helped launch Rogers Sportsnet's fledgling hockey coverage when the network made its début in 1998. You can follow him at bigmouthsports.com and at twitter.com/bigmouthsports
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#1 Rexall Robots
January 26 2011, 09:46AM
Trash it!
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The Leafs need to be very careful with how they handle Reimer. He has potential, but the situation is ripe for him to become damaged. Of course, the team could always trade him and keep Gus, kind of like the situation from a few years ago where they kept Pogge and traded Rask. That worked out pretty good, right?

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