The Maple Leafs did not take the morning skate leaving just one sure thing heading into tonight’s four alarm home date against the Boston Bruins.
James Reimer will start in goal.
When Leafs’ coach Ron Wilson decided to start J.S. Giguere Thursday in Florida, he ignited a wave criticism, even if those opinions are the purview of call-in-shows and internet posts and not what was once reverently called the mainstream media.
There is no mainstream media any more. You might argue Twitter, Facebook and dedicated sites like this one are the truly legitimate sources for opinion, if not news and opinion. If you believe that, Wilson’s decision isn’t controversial so much as a firestorm that threatens, like forest fires do, to hide and burn under the ground even while the blaze lies vanquished up above.
People are angry because they believe the Leafs have been gifted with a rare window to make the playoffs and the move smelled of the white flag.
Both sides got their way in the 4-0 loss to Florida. Giguere did not shine and the Leafs were shut out, leaving Wilson ample ammunition to argue that Terry Sawchuk in his prime could not help a team that did not score. The other side offered, with some conviction, that the Leafs knew they were beaten before they started and that Reimer’s presence has provided the confidence to take a chance knowing the young goalie had their back.
Wilson, naturally, wasn’t having any of it. “Shame on me for playing a Stanley Cup winner, a Conn Smythe winner,” he said Friday. “Giguere was a guy who up to the time he got injured was our number one goalie.”
Here’s what I think really happened here.
Wilson believed that at 23 and in the cauldron of a playoff race, Reimer couldn’t be expected to play the club’s last 11 games in a row.
Reimer’s play had been falling off leading to his terrific work in beating Carolina 3-1 on Tuesday. The game before, you may remember, the Tampa Bay Lightning chased him out of the crease with five goals. He had surrendered 15 goals in four games and had one regulation win in four tries going into Carolina. There was ample reason to suspect at least a mild cause of playoff race burnout. My guess is that’s when the idea of resting Reimer in Florida gained its traction and even the rapture of the win in Carolina couldn’t knock the plan off track.
The choice was not between Reimer and Giguere. The choice was between Jonas Gustavsson and Giguere.
In everyone’s favorite tense, retrospect, it’s clear that Giguere hadn’t recovered from the rust caused by a succession of groin injuries. To complicate things, Gustavsson, the most forgotten monster since Godzilla, had been spectacular with the Marlies until he was called up Feb. 28.
But Wilson went with the guy, however rusty, who had a miniature Stanley Cup at home. You can’t fault him for that.
Wilson said Friday if he started Reimer he would have been criticized for putting in a tired goalie. Not at all. In fact, playing the kid would have been, for public relations purposes, far safer.
What makes Ron Wilson so vexing to his critics and admirable to his supporters is that he believes everything he says, as he is saying them. That does not mean he doesn’t change things up in between. He has chastised the media for hinting Reimer was tired, then scolded them when they questioned his decision to rest the young goalie. He says the first goal in Florida was a killer and then infers Reimer would not have made any difference. But he does not say that Reimer’s game was showing some cracks, cracks that were rectified in Carolina. He does not say the kid is only human. That he cannot say. He needs Superman in goal and recognizes a coach’s lack of faith in his goalie as kryptonite.
This habit of always sounding sure even if his message is malleable is particularly annoying when we all know someone who is right all the time. All we ever have to do is look up. By this barometer, the one expected of Leaf coaches, Ron Wilson is a dismal failure.