Gustavsson Needs an AHL Conditioning Stint

There is no arguing that the Toronto Maple Leafs need a spark as they enter the unofficial second half of the 2010-11 season. Where that spark were to come from, whether it would be from management, coaching, a trade, a signing or whatever else, doesn’t matter.

With a very good young goalie, a mediocre goalie and a goalie who is struggling mightily on their roster, perhaps goaltending is the first place to look for general manager Brian Burke and head coach Ron Wilson.

Twenty-six year old Jonas Gustavsson, the one who is struggling mightily, has a lot of potential and he has shown it at certain points over the last two seasons. If he is going to be the Maple Leafs’ goalie of the future like he was made out to be when he signed in Toronto during the 2009 off season, Gustavsson will need to find some good consistency in his game sooner than later.

In 42 games last year, Gustavsson had a record of 16-15-9, a goals against average of 2.87 and a save percentage of .902. Although he was inconsistent last season (albeit not as much as he is this year), those statistics are fairly respectable, seeing that he was a rookie in the NHL.

This season, Gustavsson’s statistics have dropped considerably. In 23 games, the Danderyd, Sweden native has a record of 6-13-2, a save percentage of .890 and a goals against average of 3.29. Some of his greatest games this season include:

Oct. 21 vs. New York (Rangers) – made 30 saves of 32 shots
Oct. 28 at Boston – made 30 saves on 32 shots
Nov. 18 vs. New Jersey – made 29 saves on 30 shots
Nov. 20 at Montreal – made 37 saves on 39 shots
Dec. 26 at New Jersey – made 29 save on 30 shots

Overall, Gustavsson has only played in eight games in which he has recorded a save percentage of .900 or higher, and one of those games was a six-save relief effort; he has recorded a save percentage of .900 or higher in just 35% of his games this season. In his last five games, Gustavsson has allowed 19 goals on 158 shots; a goals against average of 3.80 and a save percentage of .879.

Now, let’s not blame Gustavsson’s recent (remember that word, recent) struggles entirely on him. Although it is hard to pinpoint the exact time Gustavsson’s downhill spiral began, it had to have been sometime around the end of November, when his impressive three game stretch against the Devils, Canadiens and Stars came to an end. That is 14 games ago for Gustavsson, about five or six of which he probably should have spent playing in the minors on a conditioning stint.

But that’s the past, and now is the present, and Gustavsson is still with the Leafs.

With his confidence being drained every time his dresses for the Leafs (which is a rarity now with James Reimer back up with the big club), and the team carrying three goalies, would the time to send Gustavsson down to the Marlies for a conditioning stint not be now?

There is no doubt Gustavsson has what it takes to tear up the American Hockey League, which would surely help build his confidence back up. By the time he is recalled after about five games or so it might be wise to send Reimer down for whatever reason. By then, the Leafs would have a confident goalie and a veteran goalie, assuming Jean-Sebastien Giguere is not traded, to help them mount a charge at the playoffs.

That’s not to say they will make the playoffs, but the possibility is still there, although it’s slim, and Burke has said that he is looking to add to the Leafs’ roster at the trade deadline.

Follow me on Twitter @LukasHardonk for more Maple Leafs coverage.

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