At some point, the Maple Leafs are going to have to start dealing in facts when it comes to The Monster, goalie Jonas Gustavsson.
Pretty much every game Gustavsson plays, he gives up a whack of goals, almost always three or more. Every game Ron Wilson and Brian Burke and many Leaf fans go out of their way to say it wasn't his fault, that he could have sued his defence for non-support, that you can't pin this one on him.
The latest episode in this exercise came Monday night in Philly when the Leafs lost 4-2. Gustavsson gave up the four goals on 30 shots, not considered a terribly onerous burden for an NHL goalie to bear. He was busy, sure. He made two or three very good saves. He stopped Jaromir Jagr on one of three breakaways. And he allowed four goals, which means the Leafs had very little chance of winning the game because it's very difficult to score five in most NHL matches.
At the other end, Sergei (Bob) Bobrovsky faced 28 shots, let in two. He did the job a backup goalie is supposed to do. He made as many good saves as Gustavsson, and gave up no easy ones.
The best job of a backup in the NHL on the night was delivered by 21-year-old Jacob Markstrom of Florida, a 6-foot-6 giant who won his second game in three starts with a spiffy 40-save performance against the Montreal Canadiens in which he allowed just one goal.
Now that's a monster of a kid delivering the kind of performance worthy of a good nickname.
The Leafs have paid Gustavsson well, they've taken care of his medical needs, they've coddled him, they've kept him in the NHL when should have been in the minors. It was generally acknowledged Ben Scrivens was better in the pre-season, but he went to the AHL Marlies and Gustavsson stayed up.
As a free agent, the Leafs pursued The Monster with vigour, and won the race. But that's meaningless now. Fabian Brunnstrom had a lot of teams believing in his talent once, too.
Fine. The Leafs apparently believe Gustavsson, although at 27, he's not so young any more. In his last seven appearances, a reasonable sample size, he has allowed 31 goals. In his last 17 appearances, only twice has his save percentage in a game been above .900, which is sort of the bare minimum these days to be regarded as a bona fide NHL goalie. The argument has been that the team plays badly in front of him every time out. Well, the numbers show that in his last 26 appearances, Gustavsson has faced more than 30 shots on only eight occasions.
The part that's truly mystifying is that while Gustavsson has played 68 NHL games, he has only played five in the AHL where he might have been able to build up the kind of professional confidence and momentum that could be converted into quality NHL play.
The Leafs could have gone after a veteran NHL backup last summer. Tomas Vokoun was there if they wanted him. They chose to believe in Gustavsson, and while he's capable of making good to excellent saves in any game, he just doesn't stop enough pucks to give the team a chance to win on most nights. The stats don't lie.
The excuse-making surrounding this netminder, meanwhile, is remiscent about how excuses were once made for Andrew Raycroft. And Vesa Toskala. In both cases the Leafs tried to convince you that what you thought you were seeing wasn't really what you were seeing.
Well it was. In Gustavsson's case, the only one who can really change the perception is him. Stop more pucks. Allow fewer goals. Put up the numbers.
Otherwise, there's really not much to talk about here.