I don’t know if half the fun of watching Jonas Gustavsson play net is the fact I get to yell out “The Monster!” every time I find out he is starting, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.
It also doesn’t hurt fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs that their prized European find over the summer is healthy and helping his team back to respectability.
Now granted, that’s a long road to travel. But right now the Buds are officially out of giving-Taylor Hall-to-the-Bruins territory (though with the fewest goals in the Northeast Division, the B’s ironically could use the Ontario League sniper right now) and well on their way out of the draft slot that would give Boston Tyler Seguin, Cam Fowler or Kirill Kabanov.
‘The Monster,’ not to mention the debut of sniper Phil Kessel, has re-energized the Leafs of late and the Swedish rookie has been dynamite since returning from a groin injury. In the past four games in fact, Gustavsson’s save percentage has risen with each appearance, while his goals-against average has dropped. He owns all three Toronto regulation victories this season and three overtime/shootout losses, meaning the Leafs would have two points in the standings without him.
Flashes of why ‘The Monster’ was going to be so important to the Maple Leafs came very early this year; in the pre-season to be precise. That’s when he went post-to-post to repel a 2-on-0 rush against the Detroit Red Wings, the same offensive machine he stoned 5-1 on Saturday night.
Every franchise wants to employ a goaltender who can steal games and keep his team in the thick of it when the skaters aren’t dazzling, but for whatever reason, Toronto needs that guy and always has historically.
No matter what the era, the Philadelphia Flyers have been a tough, gritty bunch augmented by elite scorers. The Montreal Canadiens almost always win through finesse and skill (exceptional goaltending is usually in there, too). The Pittsburgh Penguins build around a phenom (Lemieux, Jagr, now Crosby/Malkin).
In the recent past, any sort of playoff run in Toronto was in synch with a game-changing goaltender. Curtis Joseph was the last such netminder during his 1998-2002 run with the franchise, so much so that fans feted his ill-fated return last season well past the point of his effectiveness. Felix Potvin was the hero before that in the early ’90s.
And back when the Buds were winning actual Cups, the crease was protected by Hall of Famers such as Johnny Bower and Turk Broda.
Of course, it’s too early to anoint Gustavsson as the next Leafs great, but he certainly has some advantages outside of his own excellent athletic play – namely that the scouting reports will be quite thin until opponents actually face him a couple times. Consider it the Steve Mason corollary.
‘The Monster’ certainly has aspects of his game to work on – rebound control and playing the puck at the fore – but he’s found his groove in Toronto and it couldn’t have come at a better time for Leafs fans. They’re not planning a parade down Bay Street, but at least they’re not threatening to jump off a ledge into the middle of the avenue, either. Considering the first 10 games of this season, that’s a monster accomplishment.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Monday and Wednesday, his column – The Straight Edge – every Friday, and his prospect feature, The Hot List appears Tuesdays.
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