Through the first three games and the first twenty minutes of the fourth game, Toronto had given Leafs Nation a reason to believe the past was behind this current team. That notion especially echoed through the steady goaltending… until Thursday night.
Ben Scrivens and James Reimer combined for a .932 save percentage with just five goals against in the opening three games. That all changed in the Leafs’ second appearance at the Air Canada Centre.
Toronto came out in the first period with a pace the Islanders simply couldn’t match, taking a 3-1 lead after 20 minutes. Ben Scrivens also looked sharp, making one or two big saves in the period. The rest, as they say is history, as a pair of ex-Leafs — who never actually suited up for the team — in Brad Boyes and Keith Aucoin, would each score to put the Islanders in the driver seat.
As for Scrivens, it was a night and day difference from the first period.
By no means was this simply a goaltender meltdown, the team completely imploded around Scrivens. At the same time, he was unable to bail them out on defensive lapses.
As per usual in this market, goaltending controversy quickly swept through the Canadian media and panic began to overwhelm Leafs Nation just four games into the season.
But the key question remains, did any of that fear enter the mind of new GM Dave Nonis? Apparently not.
“No, nothing has changed; if there’s a deal out there that makes us better that doesn’t severely affect us going forward, then we would look to do it,” said Nonis. “And if there’s not, then it’s important the players we have in our room compete like they have prior to (Thursday) night. There is no change in the direction we’re going.”
Some may speculate this to be a purely political statement, something he is obligated to say so as not to strike panic and fear into a panic prone fanbase. After all, showing any signs of discomfort with the goaltending situation would only elevate the asking price from Vancouver for All-Star goaltender Roberto Luongo.
However, TSN’s Jamie McLennan explained that it’s only one bad game. You could even say it was only a bad half-game. McLennan said Scrivens simply needs to adjust to the quick shooters in the NHL; that he needs to get over quicker to block more of the net, instead of relying solely on reflexes.
Yes, the Leafs have a very capable backup in James Reimer, but switching goaltenders this early in the season as a result of one bad game would not produce a positive result.
Head coach Randy Carlyle has not yet named the starter for tonight’s game. In fact, he even hinted near the end of a media scrum Friday that he may not be as confident in Scrivens as we think.
Carlyle mentioned the reason for starting Scrivens this season was due to the amount of games he’d already played this year before the NHL lockout was resolved. He didn’t mention Scrivens out-working Reimer for the job.
He said they had planned to alternate goalies in the back-to-back games versus Pittsburgh and the Islanders, but may regret that decision in hindsight.
“I felt it was hard going back-to-back for a guy who hasn’t played in six months,” said Carlyle. “I guess it was maybe a call I’d like to have back.”
So now one must wonder, did Scrivens really ever hold the number one job in Toronto, or had the Leafs planned to ease Reimer into the starting role all along? This goaltending controversy, it would appear, has the potential to get ugly.
If Scrivens was the unanimous choice to start through the season, recent history shows that jumping to the other unproven goaltender after one bad game doesn’t work.
I know it’s something I repeat from time to time, but the Leafs’ epic meltdown last season started with the rotation of goaltenders after bad outings.
If the Leafs are to continue to move forward and erase losses this season, it will have to come through remaining steady and responding to those losses, not bailing on the man behind the mask.