The Maple Leafs’ season is only six games old but it’s never too soon to garner some impressions.
No better place than Thursday’s Leafs game, a disconsolate 2-1 loss to an undermanned Rangers team.
It was the Leafs first loss in regulation this season and it was notable for two elements, the excellent performance from backup goalie Jonas Gustavsson
and coach Ron Wilson’s decision to bench number one centre Tyler Bozak
in the third period.
Bozak insisted at practice on Friday that he had gotten the message and was hoping to amend things in a road game in Philadelphia on Saturday.
“We’re a line that is supposed to score a lot of points and score a lot of goals and we haven’t been doing that,” Bozak said. “I think that (the benching) is the right thing to do to turn this thing around.”
Wilson’s main complaint this season has centred on the unwillingness of his forwards to go into the high cotton in front of the other team’s net.
“I think we have to get in front of the net,” said Bozak who is scoreless with three assists. “Me personally I’ve been trying to go there on the power play and what not. It’s never been something I hesitated to do. I should be the guy getting in front of the net and Phil (Kessel) should be the one shooting. “
A measure of Bozak’s inability to contribute goals is his shot totals. He has just five in six contests.
All that said, it’s still, as they say, early.
On Friday the Leafs sat second in the East with a 4-1-1 record. They are 10th in goal scoring, 16th in power play, seventh in penalty killing, and fourth in goals against. Not bad for a team, you may remember, that finished dead last in practically everything last season.
“We are only six games into the season,” Bozak said. “It’s not like everything is coming to an end here. We’ve got lots of hockey left. Our team has lost one game in regulation. We’re still a pretty confident group.”
If anything they should be confident in their goaltending. J.S. Giguere, who will start in Philadelphia and Gustavsson have combined for a 2.17 goals against and a palatable .911 save percentage.
Idle for eight days, Gustavsson was excellent against the Rangers. He operated with an economy of movement not always seen last season. A terrific skater and athlete, Gustavsson has sometimes struggled to not take himself out of the play by overshooting his mark.
“I am working on trying to play simple without big movements but it means you have to be in position,” he said. “It’s something I’m always working on.”
As for the gap between games, Gustavsson merely shrugs.
“I know it sounds boring, but I don’t think about how many games I will play. I don’t set any goals. I just try to show up at the rink and do my best. When I get the chance, I enjoy helping my team. My goal is to be a better goalie. If I can be a better goalie, even if I play 20 games, that’s what I want to do.”