The Toronto Maple Leafs had better find their scoring touch soon. If they don’t, they’ll certainly require better goaltending.
At the start of the season they got both – great goaltending from sophomore James Reimer and ample scoring as they climbed to the top of the NHL standings.
In recent days, though, the loss of Reimer and the inefficiency of backup Jonas Gustavsson and call-up Ben Scrivens, coupled with the fact that the team couldn’t hit a cow in the rear end with a shovel in terms of offence, have Toronto moving in a direction it does not want to go – downward.
After being slaughtered 7-0 at home Saturday night, the Leafs were once again beaten soundly, 5-1 by the Florida Panthers, on Tuesday night at Air Canada Centre. On both occasions the fans sent them packing to a chorus of boos. No wonder: seven plus five, carry the one… uh, that’s 12-1 on home ice against two otherwise beatable teams.
Gustavsson, the starter against Florida, made a number of good saves. However, as has been his haunt, the goals he does let in suggest he is uncomfortable at this level. In the first period he jumped out of his net as though someone screamed there was a mouse in his crease. Florida’s Jack Skille swooped around the net and deposited his first goal of the season.
Then in the second, with Toronto’s offence stuck in neutral, the focus once again fell to the Leafs’ net. It wasn’t pretty. At 16:28 Gustavsson wandered behind the net, got lost, and the Panthers scored. Then he got beat on a low shot 19 seconds later. It was not a great shot.
Exit Gustavsson and enter Scrivens, who also made a number of exceptional saves, but, in the end, did not provide his team with an opportunity to climb back into the game.
And he admitted as much afterwards.
"I just didn’t stop the puck when I needed to," Scrivens said. "I needed to give these guys a chance, and I didn’t do that."
It was pointed out to Scrivens that he did make a few highlight-reel saves, but that did not ease the pain.
"That’s little consolation," he said. "I’ve got to make sure I give these guys a chance, and I didn’t do that tonight. I didn’t hold up my end of the bargain."
Nor did the scorers. And therein lies the Leafs’ problem. No goals plus no saves equals no wins.
"I know (the goalies) probably aren’t happy with the way they played, but we aren’t happy with the way we played, either," said top-line winger Joffrey Lupul. "The two go hand in hand; we have to help each other."
Coach Ron Wilson echoed that sentiment. In fact, Wilson was complimentary of his team, under the circumstances. But as he spoke, it became evident he believes the goalies must improve.
"If you’re not sure what’s going to happen in the (defensive zone), you play a little cautious, but for me the positive thing tonight was the number of scoring chances we had," Wilson said. "I didn’t think we played very well, and we managed to get away with wins (against New Jersey and Columbus last week), and you could kind of see where we were headed. Tonight, if we can take anything positive out of it, it’s how well we played in the second and third periods. Their goalie made a number of big saves, and unfortunately we didn’t get a save, and that kind of sunk us. We’ve got to shore up our goaltending, obviously, and play the way we did tonight, and more often than not, the puck will go in."
Wilson brought up a good point. Never mind how his team played, the real star of the night was Florida goalie Jose Theodore. You may remember him as the NHL’s Hart Trophy winner – the MVP – in 2002 with the Montreal Canadiens. Since then he’s bounced around like a bad penny (not Steve Penney), but he has actually played well the past few years in Washington and Minnesota.
"It’s so frustrating," said Toronto forward Clarke MacArthur. "We threw 40 shots at him (actually 39), but little mistakes cost us. I threw a couple away on the power play, and it was uncharacteristic plays that hurt. I feel like we’re all pressing a little bit, and there’s no need for it. We’re in a good spot, and it’s a matter of just relaxing out there."
No matter how you slice it, Toronto needs better goaltending. There is no indication as to when Reimer will be back, and as long as he is out, the Leafs need either Gustavsson or Scrivens to rise to the occasion – or they need to acquire help.