Looking back at the downfall of the 2011-2012 season for the Toronto Maple Leafs it becomes obvious – at least to myself – that the January 31st, 2012 game against the Pittsburgh Penguins was the beginning of the end for the blue and white. It was a night in which the Leafs completely dominated one of the Eastern Conference’s best teams for the first 50 minutes of the game only to have Jonas Gustavsson completely unravel down the stretch.
The Leafs were playing their final game of January that night, a month that saw them having won 7 of their 11 games played. Toronto was firmly entrenched in a playoff position and with a current record of 25-19-6 they were making a push for home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. On the strength of Mikhail Grabovski’s two goals and one assist, the Leafs were ahead of the Penguins 4-1 and if not for Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury the blue and white could have been ahead by much more. Having outshot the home team 27-17 through the first two periods it may have been the most dominant 40 minutes the Leafs played that season.
From that point forward though due mostly to Gustavsson’s struggles the Leafs ended up blowing that late lead eventually losing the game in a shootout. Call me delusional or foolish if you will, but I believe confidence is a major proponent to a teams success. From this point forward I strongly believe that the team lost all faith and belief in “The Monster”. It’s also safe to say that the coaching staff also lost all faith in Gustavsson considering he only started 3 of the next 14 games (all losses).
This game was also the moment that it became apparent that GM Brian Burke had made a major mistake in not fixing the goaltending issue earlier in the season. The Leafs – mostly due to good fortune – had prospered up until this point with an injured Reimer and a hot Gustavsson, but it was only a matter of time before the wheels fell off of that cart. The collapse in Pittsburgh was the moment when the inevitable occurred. It was too late in the season for Burke to acquire a competent goalie without an opposing general manager cashing in on the Leafs’ desperation.
Without an answer in between the pipes the Leafs stumbled and bumbled their way the rest of the season going 10-18-4 following that shootout loss in Pittsburgh. The instability in net has been a tortuous feeling for supporters of the Leafs and there is not one fan of the blue and white who couldn’t see the writing on the wall with Gustavsson last season. While Reimer gets the benefit of the doubt – considering his concussion issues in 11-12 – there is no excuse for the blue and white to enter the 12-13 without a proven and established goaltender wearing a Leafs sweater. The definition of insanity is an individual who continuously makes the same mistake over and over without comprehending the consequences, hopefully Burke can prove he has learned from his mistake.