Alex Lombardi, Contributor
Goals are a-plenty in Leafland. In the wrong net though.
Spanning back to February 7, the Leafs are 1-6-1. During this eight game span, they have allowed 31 goals and only scored 15.
Simply put, Jonas Gustavsson and James Reimer have not lived up their billing to make the Maple Leafs a legitimate playoff team. During their recent eight-game slide, the Leafs’ goaltending duo has posted a measly .872 save percentage and a lofty 3.86 goals against average. This is unacceptable for a fringe team battling for the final playoff spot in a competitive Eastern Conference.
I am a firm believer that goaltending is the most important position in hockey. When a goalie makes a mistake, unlike his teammates, the result is displayed to everyone. A team’s confidence, swagger, and style of play are determined by the faith they can place in their Technicians of the Tangled Twine (Joe Bowen anyone?).
In my mind, there are two goalies that can be the long- and short-term solutions to the Leafs’ crowded crease. Anders Lindback of Nashville and Ben Bishop of St. Louis are both young, big (6’6” and 6’7” respectively), but young and unproven. Both play the same goaltending style preached by coach François Allaire: big blocking, similar to J.S. Giguere in Anaheim.
It will be difficult to pry either of these young goalies away from their teams; however, Nashville and St. Louis both boast tremendous organizational depth at the goalie position. Also, both teams are in the midst of what could be long playoff runs, so a deal is not out of the question if it can help them gain a playoff performer.
I’m definitely not saying goaltending is the Leafs only issue, although it is their most pressing. The Buds need a more balanced attack, need more team grit (or heart – whatever you would like to call it) and must have a better defined top-six and bottom-six group of forwards. This last point is the most important. I don’t feel that Matthew Lombardi is a bottom-six guy. In the same breath, Clarke MacArthur isn’t a true top-six forward (and Lombardi isn’t either, as we have a number of fast undersized players in the top six).
Let’s talk about Dion. In his last eight games, he has pinched much more, it seems. More odd men rushes (and subsequent goals) have resulted in those games.
At the trade deadline I would expect the Leafs to at least inquire into the availability of a goalie (Lindback, Bishop or Nabokov) and some size at front. Ryan Clowe has been linked to the Leafs recently, and while that would be a great acquisition, I can’t see San Jose moving an integral part of their playoff-bound team. Steve Ott seems like a great fit for the Toronto team, depending on his price.
The Leafs need to do a couple of things by the trade deadline: make a trade of some significance (no core players) to shake up the troops; and choose a goalie to be starter, win or lose. Goaltenders (especially in Toronto) need confidence. If they are looking at the bench after every goal, they will not be able to put each goal in the past. Like the Leafs rode Reimer during the stretch run last season, they need to decide on their man and stick with him. It will help the players too.
Additionally, the team (and fans) needs to relax. Do not panic. They have been down and out more with fewer games and have made it interesting in the past. Just remember Leafland… we are the youngest team in the entire league and we will experience growing pains.
Hopefully this pain doesn’t lead to our death.