So The Monster gets thrown into the lion’s den. On his 27th birthday, no less.
And despite his team’s 5-1-1 start, the fan base back in Toronto is reaching for the panic button.
The Toronto Maple Leafs revealed on Sunday that netminder James Reimer will miss at least one game with “whiplash-type symptoms.” In his place on Monday will be backup Jonas (The Monster) Gustavsson, who gets his second start in hostile territory against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Reimer suffered the injury when he was bowled over by Brian Gionta early in Saturday’s 5-4 win over the Montreal Canadiens and had to leave the game with a sore neck.
The team is hoping it proves to be nothing more than a minor injury, as while Gustavsson earned the win, he hasn’t inspired confidence in posting a 4-8-0 record, 4.31 goals-against average and .860 save percentage in his last 13 appearances dating back to last December.
Leafs coach Ron Wilson said Reimer will “very likely” be ready to play Thursday when Toronto finishes its road trip against the New York Rangers. Even so, the team will call up Ben Scrivens or Jussi Rynnas to back up Gustavsson for Monday’s game.
“It’s day-to-day,” Reimer said. “We’re going to see how it is tomorrow morning. I’d be shocked if it was anything more than a couple days, but you never know. It is looking better; I’m a lot better today than I was yesterday.”
The Leafs are taking every precaution here, however, and don’t want to rush Reimer back given how valuable he is to their lineup. (When asked, neither Wilson or Reimer felt Gionta should be disciplined by the league for the collision.)
The injury puts Gustavsson in a tough spot, as his second NHL start in nine months will again come against one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference – just as it did in an ugly 6-2 loss to the Boston Bruins last week.
“Getting a win under his belt probably takes some of the pressure off,” Wilson said. “It’d been a long time since he’d actually won a game. I expect a good performance anyway.”
“I mean, you can’t do better than what you are,” Gustavsson said, offering some peculiar phrasing to describe his situation. “If you know you did everything you could to prepare yourself then that will give you confidence.”
Atop their division after seven games, the Leafs can probably afford to drop a game or two, but this latest injury situation shows just how problematic any kind of injury to Reimer could be.
Gustavsson has looked a little off in his two appearances this season after hardly playing at all in the second half a year ago. He whiffed on a couple pucks against the Bruins and then allowed a goal on the first shot he faced in Montreal.
As a result, many Leafs fans reacted with unease when the news broke that Reimer wouldn’t be able to play Monday.
“Scary watching Gus in net,” one posted on Twitter. “Looks lost in goal.”
“He’s the new Toskala,” wrote another, referencing former Leafs starter Vesa Toskala, who played his way out of the NHL in 2009-10 and is now struggling in the Finnish league.
Wilson, however, defended Gustavsson, saying he felt confident giving him more time in goal after the way he played Saturday.
“It wasn’t really fair the way things worked out in Boston,” the coach said of the fact Gustavsson had little help from his teammates in his first start. “But he managed to come up with the win [against Montreal]in a difficult circumstance. I thought he played pretty well.”
“It’s really tough to come in in the middle of a game,” Reimer added. “I felt bad that I had to put him in that position. But I thought he played really well. I might have to buy him a dinner or something.”