By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Nov. 19) – The one image Jonas Gustavsson and fans of the Maple Leafs are desperately hoping to avoid tonight is that which has been all-too familiar for the Swedish-born goalie this season: gliding to the bench forlornly in mid-game, having been pulled by head coach Ron Wilson. After dropping to third in the organization depth chart – behind James Reimer and Ben Scrivens – Gustavsson is in frantic need of a quality performance against the Washington Capitals, when he starts tonight’s game at the Air Canada Centre. It’s an assignment granted, by Wilson, more out of necessity than desire, as the Leafs have a 5 p.m. start tomorrow in Raleigh NC – roughly 19-and-a-half hours beyond the conclusion of tonight’s match.
With Reimer appearing to have made a bit of progress in his concussion rehab – and general manager Brian Burke telling Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star this week that he no longer envisions Gustavsson a starter in the NHL – the beleaguered goalie is on very thin ice. Though Burke never guaranteed anything with Gustavsson, he spared neither effort nor expense in wooing the goalie to North America two summers ago, and would not have made such a comment at the time about Gustavsson’s potential in the big league; it was clearly a response to the netminder’s plummeting stock with the Leafs. Now that Scrivens is on the up-swing, it is difficult to imagine Gustavsson maintaining his back-up role once Reimer returns. That’s why he must turn in a solid effort in tonight’s game; another dud, and it would be no surprise if the Leafs turned to waivers with the intention of demoting him to the AHL.
Moreover, Gustavsson does not have a contract beyond this season, so rehabilitating his own reputation is doubly critical. There’s no suggestion here that he can’t do it – and quite a bit of hope, in fact, that he does bounce back – given the emotional and physical scars that no person his age should have to endure. But, it’s time for action… pro hockey is a hard, cruel business and survival is never guaranteed.
My photos, now, from the Capitals’ morning skate today at the ACC, and some late-autumn foliage on Friday in North Carolina:
THE WASHINGTON CAPITALS – AND ALEX OVECHKIN (BELOW) – SKATED AT THE USUAL TIME OF 11:30 A.M. FOR VISITING TEAMS IN THE AIR CANADA CENTRE.
OVECHKIN ENTERTAINED A SWARM OF MEDIA IN THE CAPITALS DRESSING ROOM AFTER THE SKATE (ABOVE) AND TALKED WITH FRIENDS OUTSIDE THE ROOM LATER (BELOW).
WASHINGTON COACH BRUCE BOUDREAU (ABOVE LEFT) CHATS WITH PLAY-BY-PLAY MAN JIM HUGHSON OF HOCKEY NIGHT IN CANADA THIS MORNING.
ALWAYS A SUCKER FOR AUTUMN TREE COLORS, I SNAPPED THE PHOTOS BELOW ON FINAL APPROACH TO THE RUNWAY IN CHARLOTTE ON FRIDAY. THE FARTHER SOUTH YOU GO, THE LATER THE COLORS BLOSSOM AT THIS TIME OF YEAR.
USAIRWAYS AIRBUS-321 LIFTS OFF (ABOVE) ON FRIDAY AFTERNOON WITH BUILDINGS OF DOWNTOWN CHARLOTTE IN THE DISTANCE.
MORE AUTUMN COLORS (ABOVE) ON TAKE OFF FOR TORONTO, AND A NEAT VIEW OF DOWNTOWN CHARLOTTE (BELOW) FROM THE AIR, WITH 73,778-SEAT BANK OF AMERICA STADIUM IN FOREGROUND: HOME OF THE NFL’s CAROLINA PANTHERS.