Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson's recent decision to start 'Big Ben' instead of 'The Monster' against the St Louis Blues played out as nothing short of an inspired choice. Scrivens was undeniably excellent on a night when the Leafs came out strong, fell asleep for 35 minutes, and then awoke for the final few minutes and overtime to earn the W. What does this decision ultimately mean for the Maple Leafs battle of the back ups?
First, this decision signals something that we Leaf fans have long been thinking, can 'The Monster' live up to the hype? The short answer is NO. The long answer goes something along the lines of, he very well could be the next Dominic Hasek, but in reality, he looks more like a very recent Roberto Luongo. Sure there are flashes of brilliance, and straight up dominance over the forwards on the other team. However, these flashes of brilliance come at a cost....the weak goal, or three, that then finds its way through his enormous pads. Do not get me wrong Leafs fans, I have been a staunch supporter of Gustavsson since he made his appearance 4 years ago. I like many things about his game. He is a very large goaltender at 6-3, which allows him to cover large parts of the net while in his butterfly. He is also incredibly acrobatic, making saves that defy the limits of the human body. My argument has long been to give him time to adapt to the smaller ice surface so that he can reclaim the glory of his days in Sweden that saw him earn a 1.92 gaa, and a .932 save percentage over 42 games. Unfortunately, it seems like that day will never come. After playing 5 games in the American Hockey League, and another 74 games in the National Hockey League, 'The Monster' is still guilty of a great many rookie defects. The most disturbing of which are his 'happy feet' which see him routinely overplaying the first shot leaving him swimming wildly out of position for the inevitable rebound; his inability to banish the momentum crushing soft goal either through the five hole, through his glove, or over his shoulder; and finally his inability to inspire confidence in his teammates that they can leave him alone to do his job while they focus on a strong forecheck and quick strike offence. It is for these reasons I believe that Jonas Gustavsson's time in the Blue and White is coming to a close.
Second, just who is Ben Scrivens? Since he has been all over sports news for the last 8 days following his scintillating start in Columbus on November 3rd I will only highlight the few relevant details. At 25 years old 'Big Ben' is hardly the prototypical 'rookie' in the NHL. Instead of following the usual route of playing Junior, getting drafted, being groomed in the AHL, then finally making the transition to the NHL, he came up through the ECAC playing for the Big Red at Cornell University. When you look at his numbers he has been a very steady and accomplished goaltender playing a total of 117 games over 4 years, earning a 2.00 GAA and a 0.927 save percentage. His best season came in 09/10 when he went 21 and 9 with a 1.87 GAA and a 0.934 save percentage with 7 seven shut outs. Over the course of the year he was selected to the First All-Star team, he was the tournament MVP, and he won the Ken Dryden Award for Best Goaltender. Somehow he fell through the cracks in the NHL Draft, and was instead signed to an entry level contract by the Maple Leafs in 2010. His style is a very composed butterfly, and when at his best he plays a very quite game in the crease. This was best demonstrated during the 2011 preseason with the Maple Leafs. For you Leaf fans, you will immediately notice the similarities between Big Ben and Optimus Reim. He is a very promising young goalie, who seems to be in the right position more often than not, and has both quick feet and a fast glove. Admittedly I was quite hard on Gustavsson earlier so to be fair, I should point out that Scrivens did fall pretty hard from grace on Saturday night against the Boston Bruins. 5 goals on 14 shots in just over 35 minutes of play are certainly not the numbers you want to see from your backup goaltender. He was again equally dismal in relief of Gustavsson on Tuesday night against Florida allowing 2 goals on 7 shots, one of which came from a panther behind the icing line. However, and this is a pretty important however, the Maple Leafs as a team were absolutely terrible on both nights so it is difficult to put too much stock in those two outings.
So, what does it all mean? I do not think Ron Wilson has spoken truer words when he said "They build a statue (of Scrivens), they knock it down and piss on it and then now they'll be out there building it again. So you just have to be reasonable; he's a young kid and if he starts hopefully he's a little more focused this time." Scrivens seems to have won the confidence of the coaching staff at the moment, and they are certainly known to ride the hot hand. I would be absolutely floored if Wilson decided to start Gustavsson this evening against Ottawa. His lackluster performance against the Senators recently, in combination with the resurgence of Scrivens in St Louis leads many experts to predict Scrivens will get the nod tonight. If that is the case, all of Leafs Nation will be holding their breath for the first few minutes in the hopes that the bright spotlights of the ACC do not daze him once again.
Thanks for reading, and GO LEAFS GO!