Jonas Gustavsson trying to earn nickname
TORONTO -- And so Leaf Nation now readies itself for the Monster show, Part 2.
Relegated to backup duties this year after a topsy-turvy rookie season as the starter, Jonas Gustavsson, 26, has the net for the Toronto Maple Leafs for a week or two as veteran Jean-Sebastien Giguere heals his groin.
"He's going to play basically every game until Giggy comes back and maybe this will be his chance to establish himself as the No. 1 goalie," Leafs coach Ron Wilson said Thursday morning after the pregame skate at Air Canada Centre.
So far this season, Gustavsson's numbers have mirrored those from last season, although obviously in a much smaller sample size. Heading into Thursday night's start against New Jersey, Gustavsson had a .902 save percentage and 2.85 goals-against average in six games; last season, he had a .902 SP and 2.87 GAA in 42 games.
They were OK numbers, but not equal to the massive hype that accompanied his nickname and recruitment, the Leafs beating out other clubs in the summer of 2009 in a publicly played-out affair.
I asked the Monster on Thursday morning whether that hype played against him last season, that perhaps it might have been easier for him to come in and just work his way into his rookie season like any other young goalie.
"The start of this year has been way easier if you think about it that way," Gustavsson said. "But that's not something that bothers me. I don't think I was disturbed by that last year. But it's been way more quiet this year. I can just go to the rink, do my thing and go home. Last year was sometimes like a circus, but that comes with it."
I asked the same question to Wilson and he didn't buy it.
"It wasn't the Monster hype, it was health," the veteran bench boss said. "Although hype in this market takes place no matter who you are. The best player to ever play in hockey, or the worst player -- you're going to be hyped up beyond expectation. I don't think that had anything do to with anything last year. He had major health issues, two heart operations. Once we picked up Giggy [last January], who acted as a mentor, I think that helped him settle down."
Having that rookie season under his belt, his first across the Atlantic after years in Sweden, Gustavsson said he feels more prepared for what it takes now that he has a window to prove himself again.
"I didn't know what was going on around the NHL when I got here," he said. "I know that now and I feel better about that. I can just think about what I'm doing here and what I’m supposed to do. I know what it takes to get a win and how good you have to be, how sharp you have to be. That's a good thing to know. And it's a good thing to know you can play at this level. I had a chance to play a lot of games at this level last year and that helped me a lot."
Of course, if he does play well, and the Leafs get on a run, you can bet that will be story a when Giguere is ready to return. Especially for a Leafs team that just ended an eight-game winless streak.
"Everything will be parsed together here, [with the media saying] 'we've got a goaltender controversy' -- we don't," Wilson said. "But he's got to view this as his opportunity to really take the ball and run with it. And I hope he does."