Marionettes and Manipulators

Justin Goldman




I often find myself frustrated and confused by many of the coaching decisions related to starting certain goaltenders. It would help if I had more insight on every coach's motives and decision-making process, or if I had more access to their pre and post-game comments, but I don't. Nevertheless, there are too many others that still leave me perplexed.


I'll use Toronto as my main example, where Ron Wilson has been splitting minutes in an aggravating fashion since March started. J-S Giguere was extremely rusty in a 5-1 loss to Carolina, but started the next game two days later (March 4) and rebounded well, but still dropped a 2-1 contest to the Bruins. Jonas Gustavsson got the call two nights later, and in the first game of a back-to-back, made 22 saves for a 2-1 victory over Ottawa.


That game may have been a mini-turning point in his season, as it was only his fifth win in 15 total one-goal games. In fact, of Gustavsson's 13 losses this year, a whopping 10 of them were one-goal games. Eight of those came in OT. Sure enough, the win over Ottawa was crucial in terms of Gustavsson gaining some confidence late in the season. In fact, I noticed a few positive adjustments from what his stance, style and angles revealed prior to the Olympic break.


That's why I was shocked to see Giguere back in net the next night. Gustavsson had played a set of back-to-back games twice earlier in the season (Nov. and Jan.) and was a combined 3-1 in those games. So why does Wilson choose to delineate from Gustavsson's strong night at this point in the season?


Surely he would realize that Gustavsson has a perfect chance to gain some monumental momentum heading into the final stretch and would therefore try to play him more consistently, yes? At least that was my thinking. There's nothing to lose. The playoffs are out of sight. And since Gustavsson is still labeled as the future, what could be better than giving him plenty of chances to obtain a few more of those elusive one-goal victories?


Every minute counts for a goalie that has clearly struggled with angles, sightlines and depth in the net, especially European imports. All of those aspects of his game are "fixable" if he has enough chances to play more and work them out. Practices help, but games legitimately seal the deal. And since there's no urgency to win, I don't see the point in alternating starts. But Wilson alternated and Giguere ended up suffering a 3-1 loss to the Flyers.


Amazingly, the same exact thing happens again. Gustavsson hangs on for a rare one-goal win by making 26 saves on March 9 against the Bruins. For the first time all