Game Day: Why the Reimer recall is good news for Gustavsson
The decision to recall James Reimer can be interpreted in many ways. But first and foremost, this is clearly an intervention for Jonas Gustavsson.
And his response to this intervention – even if nobody uses that word – will shape his future with the Leafs.
I was listening to Deerhunter's Halcyon Digest last night and for some reason two songs – "Memory Boy" and "Helicopter" – reminded me of Goose. It's hard not to feel sorry for this poor guy.
What has happened? Are we witnessing a sophomore slump? Is Gustavsson putting too much pressure on himself to match the outer-orbital greatness achieved in Sweden?
Or is The Monster now spooked by something we can't see?
Whatever the reason, the 26-year-old is at a crossroads. Before the season started, the plan was simple: Gustavsson would march along the chosen path as the team's future No. 1 goalie.
He would ascend, once again, toward the greatness.
Veteran J.S. Giguere, the present No. 1, would mentor the talented protégé. Goaltending coach Francois Allaire would continue to fine-tune the youngster's game for North America, working on angles, rebound control, lateral movement and positional dynamics.
Alas, the plan has not proceeded as expected.
Gustavsson has played in 23 games this season. He has 6 wins, 13 losses and two OT setbacks. His save percentage is .890, which ranks 44th in a 30-team league. His GAA is an equally grim 3.29, which ranks 43rd.
But even more troubling than cold numbers is the mysterious evaporation of his confidence. Instead of the outer-orbit, Gustavsson is trapped in a personal hell of fiery insecurity and paralyzing self-doubt.
After overcoming cardiac problems and culture shock to start last season, after grinning in interviews and promising to "steal" some games from Vesa Toskala, the soft-spoken bravado has turned into shell-shocked silence.
During his last start, the disastrous 7-0 loss to the Rangers, Gustavsson looked like a child lost at the mall. He was forlorn and traumatized, despondent and alone. When he was yanked in the first after surrendering three goals in 2:26 seconds, it was painful to watch him on the bench.
His mask remained on, as if by protective instinct. His eyes kept darting up at the scoreboard, as if he couldn't quite believe what just happened. And twice his padded legs kicked out violently, an almost involuntary physical act borne from acute psychological frustration.
He had reached a new low.
If they didn't, he would likely be starting tonight's game against Carolina. They would keep playing him, possibly showcasing him for a trade. They would let him, force him, to work through this slump in real time.
They would leave Jonas Gustavsson to fight his demons on his own.
But by calling up Reimer, the Leafs are doing the opposite: They are trying to save Gustavsson. They are recognizing he needs an extended time-out. They sense he is adrift at sea and they are tossing him an anchor before his confidence vanishes in the chop.
They are intervening to free him from his personal hell.
As with any intervention, this will be difficult at first. Barring injuries or an unforeseen personnel change, my guess is Reimer will now split the workload with Giguere. All this talk of carrying three goalies or bringing the kid up because there is roster room is a red herring.
For now, it's The Jiggy & Reimer Show.
For Leaf fans, meanwhile, the Reimer recall is also good news because it indicates the team still believes it can take a mad dash for the final playoff spot, however improbable. That's the bottom line: Reimer is confident and itching to help win games down the stretch.
As for Gustavsson, he may go down to the Marlies for a conditioning stint. If he agrees to such an assignment, he wouldn't have to clear waivers. Or he may continue to work on his game with the coaching staff until the intervention is deemed a success.
Whatever happens, whatever sound bites trickle out at the official level, Gustavsson is now on a break. But when he's ready to return, the chosen path will be waiting.
PHOTO: CHRIS YOUNG/CANADIAN PRESS