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Monster keeps emotions in check Add to ...

The truth is, he’s not much of a monster.

In fact, Jonas Gustavsson may just be one of the nicer professional athletes you’ll ever meet – even on a down day and even in the company of a few prodding reporters, all of whom are anxious to know just how the Toronto Maple Leafs netminder feels about sitting out so often of late.

“No, it’s not frustrating,” Gustavsson said. “I don’t feel sorry for myself that I haven’t been playing. It’s more like I want to work even harder to be ready for my next game.

“Of course you want to play, but it’s not like it’s been like this all season.”

On that front, he’s right. The lanky Swede got the call often in the early going of the 2010-11 NHL season, starting 16 of 26 games in November and December, as No. 1 Jean-Sébastien Giguère battled an injured groin.

Along the way, however, his numbers began to fall, and when rookie call-up James Reimer went on a run beginning New Year’s Day, Gustavsson sat and watched for most of the next three weeks.

But with Reimer back in the minors and Giguère unable to play two nights in a row, Leafs head coach Ron Wilson will go back to Gustavsson against the New York Rangers on Wednesday, giving him only his second start in the past 20 days.

While few have yet dug up the phrase “sophomore slump” in relation to the man nicknamed The Monster, his 3-8-1 record, 3.74 goals-against average and .877 save percentage in his last 12 starts suggests he may well be mired in one.

“I expect him to be very motivated in the game,” Wilson said. “It’s not possible for Jiggy to play back-to-back games right now, he’s not comfortable doing that and there’s no point in stressing Jiggy.

“Jonas is capable of giving us good games as well.”

One of the theories floating around the team of late is Gustavsson has had difficulty adapting the quick, athletic and “Swedish” style he practised overseas under goalie coach Erik Granqvist to the calmer, methodic and butterfly-style heavy one preached by Maple Leafs goalie coach François Allaire.

He is also attempting to make a successful jump from Europe directly to the NHL without any seasoning in the minors, something goaltending experts say is a far more difficult task.

Asked after practice Tuesday about his play, however, Gustavsson disagreed that his style has had to change dramatically in Toronto, admitting only he still has a lot of room for improvement under Allaire. He added he feels his game is better already than it was last season as a rookie, despite the numbers saying otherwise.

“I believe that what we’re doing is right,” Gustavsson said. “What François teaches me. I don’t have to think actually because François does it for me. He knows when something’s wrong and tries to correct it. I just go out there and play how he wants me to play.

“It’s all about trying to bring the game I had in Sweden over here. It wasn’t going to happen overnight. We work on it every day and I feel more and more calm out there.

“It’s going to take time to be the goalie I can be.”

Gustavsson singled out Boston Bruins netminder Tim Thomas as a bit of an inspiration, given the current Vézina Trophy front-runner wasn’t even an NHL regular until he was 31, but one issue facing the Leafs brass is how long they can afford to wait.

With Giguère almost certainly moving on after this season (if not sooner), general manager Brian Burke will have to decide if he’s comfortable going into 2011-12 with Gustavsson and a prospect (Reimer, Jussi Rynnas or Ben Scrivens) as his tandem.

Gustavsson’s play over the final 38 games of this season – beginning against the Rangers – will likely play a large part in determining whether or not Toronto needs to add a veteran in goal.

“I feel like I have a couple of levels left,” Gustavsson said. “I’m only 26, so hopefully I’m going to be a better goalie when I’m 30, 35. But I feel like I have lots left.”

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