It wouldn't have been possible to say this at the top of the 2011-12 season, not without being fitted for a straight jacket, but it's possible to say it now: the Toronto Maple Leafs may have the best goaltending duo in the NHL.
The Maple Leafs tandem of James Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson came into the season with doubts. Reimer had success in the second-half last year but was still largely unproven. Meanwhile the Monster spent time in the minors in 2011. But the two have combined to provide the Leafs with great goaltending and with few exceptions have given the team a chance to win each and every night.
Maple Leafs' Gustavsson and Reimer
James Reimer won 4 while tying one of his first 5 starts before a concussion. Jonas Gustavsson struggled to find his form, but find it he did. He had a string of great outings, including 2 shutouts and four straight wins in early January, and a team once as desperate to get Reimer back as Tim Thomas was desperate to let the world know he's not an Obama guy, couldn't find him a start when he did return.
When they finally gave Gustavsson a rest, Reimer promptly reeled off two straight shutouts and, on Feb. 6, made it three consecutive wins with a 6-3 victory over the resurgent Edmonton Oilers. Gustavsson followed that with a strong start but lost, 2-1, in Winnipeg to the Jets on Feb. 7.
Maple Leafs sticking in playoff hunt
The result is we are into February and the Leafs continue to fight for a playoff spot. They sit 7th in the East and being in the top 8 this late is a rare experience for a team that hasn't seen Stanley Cup playoffs since 2004. They should be in their annual tailspin about now before getting hot in March and finishing strong only to narrowly miss out, forever a case of too little, too late. This time a strong finish might see them comfortably into the playoffs.
Gustavsson and Reimer haven't done it all of course, Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, Mikhail Grabvovski, a youthful defence that plays with heart and new additions like John-Michael Liles, are doing their bit, too, but the goalies are refusing to let their team fall into a prolonged slump. Neither is among the league's stat leaders but stats don't tell the whole story.
Best Goalie Tandem in NHL
So who has a better tandem in the NHL? Well, there are other teams getting great goaltending. The New York Rangers have exceeded expectations and have done it primarily with goaltending. But that's thanks to one guy, Henrik Lundqvist. Ditto the Ottawa Senators, Pittsburgh Penguins, L.A. Kings, Nashville Predators and the Boston Bruins - teams where success in goal is the handiwork of a starter, not two goalies.
Other teams have used two goalies but haven't gotten the results, teams like the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Edmonton Oilers. So who is there that the Maple Leafs goalies are up against? Arguably two tandems - that of the St. Louis Blues, with Brian Elliot and Jaroslav Halak, and in Vancouver the duo of Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider.
Elliot and Halak vs. Gustavsson and Reimer
Like the Leaf tandem, both are a surprise. In St. Louis, Elliot was brought in to play a back-up role but Halak started poorly and Elliot did so well he ended up in the all-star game. Now, with Halak back on form, St. Louis is definitely a two goalie team. The surprise in Vancouver is that two goalies are being used to the extent they are and it's because Schneider has been so good he's gotten more starts than any back-up to Luongo has ever managed. Here though, with Luongo getting 36 starts to Schneider's 17, it's really not a two-goalie team.
So it comes down to Gustavsson and Reimer vs. Elliot and Halak. Each playing strong and each team in the playoff hunt when many did not think they would be. So who then? Well, given St. Louis is already comfortably into a playoff spot and have the league's second best goals against average, while Toronto's is in the bottom half, it's gotta go to Elliot and Halak.
But Toronto plays run and gun hockey (they've outscored St. Louis, 168-129) so Gustavsson and Reimer have a tougher job each night and it's closer than the numbers suggest. Besides, regardless of who the best tandem is, if Gustavsson and Reimer continue giving their team a chance to win each night then they'll be doing it all the way to the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com