What’s the job of a head coach in the NHL? Pretty simple question. It’s to have the players, both mentally and physically, in the best position to win. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. That means getting the boys ready in the room. And it means having the best players, for any given situation, on the ice. Having the right guy out there to take the draw. Having a decent back-up in case your centre gets tossed. Having the best defensive pair on the ice in any given situation. And it also means making the best netminding choice, night after night. And, in Florida on Thursday, Wilson blew that choice, big time.
Wilson has indicated that, all along, his plan was to start Jean-Sébastien Giguère in the second night of the Leafs’ back-to-back games in Carolina and Florida this week. And, when you think about it, shouldn’t Wilson be able to start whomever he wants in goal? I mean, Giguère is, after all, a National Hockey League goaltender. He has some ability, right? He’s won a Stanley Cup – as Ron Wilson reminded us. And he’s won the Conn Smythe Trophy – as Ron Wilson also reminded us. He should be able to start against the lowly Florida Panthers, shouldn’t he?
Maybe J-S Giguère’s start was the best choice. Maybe James Reimer needed some sort of day off (even though the kid’s only just 23 years old and could probably play every day for the next month). Maybe Wilson thought it would be some sort of redemption for Jiggy, with his team’s playoff hopes fading, and he’d be able to stone the Panthers. It wasn’t.
And don’t mistake this as an indictment of the way Giguère played. Any netminder would likely have let in the first two. The third one stunk to high heaven. But the Leafs weren’t giving Jiggy any offence anyway. And that, right there, is the sole reason not to have started Giguère. The team simply, for whatever reason, has not played well in front of him over the latter part of this season. It’s like a baseball team not scoring any runs for its pitcher. That’s not the pitcher’s fault.
The third period in Atlanta on February 27th. The Leafs entered the third period winning 2-0. They lost, 3-2, in overtime. It does not matter whether Jiggy should or should not have kept that lead. Fact is, he didn’t, and it cost the team a critical point.
That’s why James Reimer should have, must have, needed to start in Florida on Thursday. But Ron Wilson had another agenda. I’d sure love to know what the hell that agenda is. Then again, maybe I wouldn’t.