Whenever a rookie goalie makes a debut in the National Hockey League, expectations can often be overwhelming. This is especially true in Toronto, where the Maple Leafs are one of the most watched and observed teams in the world. Every action is scrutinized, analyzed, and criticized. Leafs Nation wants a winner; it has been a long time since 1967. It is this date that lives in infamous fashion, as it marks the last time the Leafs made it to the Stanley Cup Finals. It was also the last year the Leafs won the Cup.
Since then, Leaf Nation has struggled through some hard times. Goalies have come and gone. Toronto developed a reputation of being a goalie graveyard, burying the likes of Jeff Reese, Andrew Raycroft, and Peter Ing. It also gave birth to goaltending careers, with names like Felix Potvin and Justin Pogge starting their careers wearing the white and blue.
Names like Curtis Joseph and Ed Belfour are forever linked with the Leafs legends, as these two stars made the Leafs instant contenders. Joseph led the Leafs to the Conference Finals twice in 1999 and 2002.
Since Ed Belfour’s departure, the Leafs have struggled to find any consistency between the pipes. Andrew Raycroft came from Boston as a Rookie of the Year winner…and crumbled under the pressure. Vesa Toskala came from San Jose and quickly became a target of the Leafs Nation with his inferior play. With no strength in goal, the Leafs fell into mediocrity and missed the playoffs every season since the lockout. Until the emergence of James Reimer, Leafs fans have had no reason to believe their goaltending woes would end. Reimer injected some life into Toronto, and almost singlehandedly led the Buds into the postseason last season, falling just short.
Entering this season, Leafs fans had lots of optimism with Reimer as their starter. The kid can play; there’s no doubting that. He is calm and focused, and rarely gets rattled. He handles the pressure of Toronto well. As Leafs luck would have it, Reimer went down with an “upper body injury” (apparently, Toronto players don’t suffer from concussions, just concussion-like symptoms), leaving Jonas Gustavsson as the starter, and rookie Ben Scrivens as a backup.
Ben Scrivens got his first start against Columbus on November 3, making 38 saves as the Maple Leafs won 4-1. Scrivens played an exceptional game, riding the wave the Leafs are currently on. As of November 3rd, the Leafs actually sit in first place in the National Hockey League. The fans have erupted with the debut of Scrivens, some going as far as to suggest that the Leafs trade Gustavsson and go with Scrivens as Reimer’s backup.
Too much, too soon! Perspective…the kid has played one game…count it, ONE game…in the NHL. Adrenalin carries a person a long way, and one game does not a career make. Scrivens is good…and has shown he has the tools to play at the NHL level. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Play the kid some more…put him in the hot seat when the Leafs play host to the Boston Bruins. Give him a start against a league powerhouse. One of two things will happen; he’ll prove to be the real deal, and challenge Gustavsson for the backup role, or prove he needs a little more AHL experience, and he’ll benefit from some more development with the Marlies. Either way, the Leafs have a good problem, but they need to make sure they don’t expect too much, too soon, from this talented youngster.
Patience is a virtue, Leafs fans…let’s not forget that good things come to those who wait.