It was one of those games you hate to watch. The forwards played well, the defense played well enough, with the exception of a couple rookie mistakes by Gardiner, but Gustavsson put up a decent showing for maybe a grand total of ten minutes. Though the Leafs spent most of the game down by just one goal, it was hard to feel optimistic given the mistrust
The Leafs controlled the play through most of the first, but a defensive lapse by Gardiner leaves Sykora a first and second chance low in the slot to let in one goal, and Gustavsson whiffs on a double-covered David Clarkson to put the Blue and White down two early. Franson put a puck on net and Connolly had a beautiful tip to get on the board.
In the second, MGK clicked when Grabbo held in a failed clearing attempt by the Devils, and sent Kulemin and MacArthur on a short, in-zone 2-on-1 - Kulemin with the setup and MacArthur with the finish. Ponikarovsky scored - because of course he did - when Gustavsson failed to shut down the five-hole goal against a pretty pathetic shot.
I disliked this goal when it happened (even though Poni is remarkably open for the walk out, due to Gardiner dropping low rather than covering the slot), but I hate it even more now, as Mark Masters tweeted: "Leafs' Jonas Gustavsson on the Ponikarovsky five-hole goal: "It's one of those goals that when you're hot, you stop."" - but watching the replay a couple times, the rather slow (and off balance) butterfly leaves a lot to be desired. He's not set, he's doing a little spin move, and there's no reason to be falling backwards before the shot is close to getting through (leaning back has a tendency to open the 5-hole up).
The third period was Gustavsson's lone bright spot through the game, though it wasn't anything that could carry the rest of his play. He shut down some good chances by Kovalchuk, and generally looked like we would expect an NHL caliber goaltender to look. He made good decisions about when to come out and challenge, made good save selections, and turned away all 9 shots.
The New Jersey trap was in full effect, and it looked like the game was locked up, but the Kessel line crashed the net to tie the game with under a minute to play. MacArthur had a great first shift in OT, and Gardiner rang a shot right off the post, but the game winning goal, incorrectly credited to Mark Fayne, belonged to none other than Jonas Gustavsson, who used his glove hand to tip in a shot-gone-wide.
Yeah. It was that bad.
The game got physical - Phaneuf put a big hit on Parise in the first, and answered the bell when Clarkson came ringing. But if Parise doen't sign in Toronto this summer, *now* we know why. Or something like that. Early in the second, Eric Bolton took Boyce "nose first" (thanks, Bowen) into the glass well after the puck had left the zone. The game featured the class of refereeing that we've come to expect from the NHL, as clutch and grab hockey went uncalled. Tons of board work, which the Leafs are prone to losing, but I don't think anyone will try to pin this missing point on the zebras.
So again, it was a tough game to watch. But the Leafs got a pity point, they still hold 8th by points and by points percentage.
A couple bonus thoughts, and the inspiration for tonight's headline, which popped up as I was writing. This Mark Masters tweet is not the kind of attitude you'd want to see, given tonight's performance: "Jonas Gustavsson: 'If I look at the big picture tonight I felt pretty good... felt better the longer the game went':" I'm not sure how you can come to this conclusion when the last goal was entirely and exclusively your fault. After your most recent screw up, there was no more game to go on. Your last failure caused the game to stop going on, and yet you'd like to gloss over it? It's important for goaltenders not to dwell on a loss - doing so can really get you lost in the woods - but this is either a very brave media-face, or it's a pretty nasty sense of denial. Wilson says his goalies need more confidence, but if you're not broadcasting insecurities after a game like this, the Leafs should be blaming a lack of talent.
So here we are, talking about the same thing we've talked about for the last four weeks, for the last four months, for the last four years: what can this team do to get a reliable netminder? I'll be very surprised if Burke does anything about the goaltending situation in the week before the trade deadline. He's publicly said that Gustavsson "saved our season" after Reimer went down with a concussion, and I doubt there's much demand for a guy who's rounding the 3000 SA mark with a .901 career average. At this point? I think I'm going to have to settle for Gustavsson simply to not get an extension in the offseason.