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Jim Parsons The Hockey Writers

Published on Tuesday, December 6, 2016





Gustavsson: It Could Be Worse

When the Edmonton Oilers signed perennial backup goaltender Jonas Gustavsson this summer, it was a bit surprising. The Oilers were one of a few teams that needed some backup help, but the free agency crop was full of goaltending options. It was a buyer’s market and the Oilers chose a netminder who had some pretty average to below average results.

(Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports)

(Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports)

Not only was the decision interesting, but the timing was odd in that Edmonton signed Gustavsson on the first day of free agency. The Oilers didn’t wait, they didn’t shop around much, they simply identified their backup and signed him. It left a few people scratching their heads, wondering if the Oilers knew something most hockey fans did not.

Gustavsson This Season

Gustavsson hasn’t had much of a chance to show his stuff this season. His start on Sunday versus Minnesota was only his third start of the season. Edmonton’s number-one goaltender Cam Talbot has started more games than any other netminder in the NHL and Talbot leads the NHL in games played, games started, saves and shots against. Gustavsson is the true definition of a backup, in that, he only plays when Talbot absolutely needs a rest.

A Closer Look

However, in those three starts and in two relief appearances, Gustavsson has done what has been asked of him. He hasn’t been stellar, but he hasn’t been a hindrance and for a backup who plays as little as Gustavsson does, it’s difficult to expect more.

In five netminding situations, Gustavsson has let in seven goals. He’s faced 91 shots, made 84 saves and carries a .916 save percentage and 2.00 goals against average into his next appearance, whenever that may be. As odd as it may seem, what Gustavsson is doing and being asked to do for Edmonton is not something all goaltenders can do.

At his current pace, Gustavsson will have started only 9 games when the season comes to a close. For Cam Talbot to play in 73 games, is a feat not asked of most starting NHL netminders. It’s a lot for the starter, but what’s often overlooked, is how few games that is for a backup. In fact, it’s next to nothing and the kind of ratio that lends itself to a backup being cold and rusty. Gustavsson hasn’t looked rusty, he hasn’t looked out of place and he hasn’t looked overwhelmed.

The Good, The Bad and the Alternative

What Gustavsson brings the Oilers is not for everyone. As was evident in the game on Sunday against Minnesota — a game the Oilers eventually lost in overtime — Gustavsson will live and die by his active tendencies. He plays an aggressive, somewhat scrambly style. It’s a style that when done right can be very effective. When overused, is prone to mistakes.

Sunday was a good example. In one moment of overtime, Gustavsson made a spectacular poke check to rob the Wild of a goal. In the following sequence, that same aggressive style allowed Mikko Koivu to score the eventual winner. Similar play, a bit of bad defense, but the goalie went to the well one too many times. It’s a trait that fans will need to get used to, but also comes with highlight reel moments.

Despite the overtime loss, Gustavsson has been better than a backup only deserving of nine starts in a season. As a result, he may see more opportunities.

For fans not excited about the prospect of more Gustavsson and less Talbot, consider the alternative. Of the major backups considered as viable options this past summer for Edmonton, Jhonas Enroth was just waived by the Toronto Maple Leafs after a disappointing .872 save percentage in six games played. Anton Khudobin is 1-3 with the Bruins and has a 2.75 goals against average. Finally, Karri Ramo hasn’t shown his face yet this year in the NHL.

Gustavsson hasn’t been fantastic and he hasn’t been great. But, it’s easy to argue, despite the questions surrounding the signing when it happened, there are and were options for the Oilers that could have been worse.

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