As Reimer Rises, Gustavsson Falls

Three goaltenders can make for a very crowded crease. The Toronto Maple Leafs made the move that most observers figured was inevitable and sent Jonas Gustavsson to the Marlies of the AHL for a conditioning stint.

This season has been one ripe with struggles for the big Swedish goaltender as he’s failed to deliver upon the occasional flashes of brilliance from a year ago. Gustavsson’s inconsistent play made him the obvious choice for demotion, especially considering the apparent arrival of James Reimer. It’s a small sample size of nine appearances, but James Reimer has outplayed Jonas Gustavsson in all areas.

Reimer’s single game save percentage has slipped under .932 all but once while Gustavsson has topped the .900 mark just twice in his last 14 appearances. Where Gustavsson has struggled mightily on a team less than renowned for its penalty kill, Reimer has excelled with an impressive .920 short-handed save percentage while turning away 204 of the 216 shots he’s seen at even-strength.

Jonathan Willis took a good look at Reimer’s gaudy numbers after the rookie had appeared in just six games with the learned approach that – at some point – the kid would come back down to earth. Well here we are, a whopping three appearances later and Reimer is still stopping pucks at an alarming rate. With Burke more than likely looking to give an ample amount of starts to Giguere in hopes of potentially moving the UFA-to be, Reimer is the obvious choice to split the duties in goal as the Leafs push towards their annual late season push.

For Leafs fans, the arrival of Reimer has provided a reason for optimism in what has been a year of few ups and more downs. Although one young goaltender with a hot nickname is on the rise, another has taken a clear step back in his development. This raises the question: what is wrong with Jonas Gustavsson?

There’s no simple answer for Gustavsson’s drastic recession, but it’s not without theories. James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail spoke with Justin Goldman of the Goalie Guild about Gustavsson’s struggles and the notion that Maple Leafs goaltending coach Francois Allaire’s style may clash with that of the “Monster”:

This does “clash” with Gustavsson a little bit because he’s a traditional Swedish butterfly goalie: His style relies more on reflexes and reactions to stop the puck. He plays deeper in his crease in order to give himself more time to react to shots and potential deflections.

Goldman also hinted at the transition from Sweden to the smaller ice surface in North America, but also stressed the importance of patience with a goalie that didn’t spend any time honing his craft in the AHL:

Personally, I think Gustavsson just so happens to be the type of Swedish import that takes longer to transition to the smaller ice surface. Because he didn’t have any time to hone or refine his game in the AHL, he has been under intense pressure to win games and evolve at a faster rate than should be expected of him. He’s been thrown into the proverbial fire and has suffered some very frustrating losses in the last year. It probably really frustrates him because he clearly has the potential to be an elite NHL goaltender. He just needs more time. If the Leafs will stay patient and positive with him, he can be a full-time starting goalie in the NHL.

Gustavsson to the AHL doesn’t spell the end of the “Monster”. Gustavsson needs to play, he has to face shots on a nightly basis if he’s to regain his status as a budding number one NHL goaltender. Given the Maple Leafs current situation, the play of Reimer and the notion that Giguere could be traded, the AHL is a logical destination for Gustavsson… for now.

Whether or not Giguere is moved at the deadline matters little in the grand scheme of Toronto’s crease. The Maple Leafs have several goaltending prospects coming down the pipe with Ben Scrivens and Jussi Rynnäs, and it’s now up to Jonas Gustavsson to prove if he can carry the reigns along with Reimer as the Leafs look to step forward in 2011-12.