At the beginning of September, I put on the mask and delved into the goaltending situation that is the tandem of Jimmy Howard and Jonas Gustavsson. To quickly summarize that positional season preview, I basically said that Jimmy Howard was going to be an Olympic goalie and Jonas Gustavsson was going to be mediocre at best. Jimmy was the one capable of stealing games, not Jonas.
Fast forward to the month of November, where the Red Wings have nearly twenty five games under their belt, and it seems as if, well, I was completely wrong about Jonas Gustavsson, at least up to this point.
The Monster has been fantastic. Seriously.
We can complain about Kenny Holland's bad cap management all we want; we can complain about Daniel Cleary, Kyle Quincey, or Brendan Smith (unless you're near Jeff); we can complain about the Red Wings being absolutely dismal on home ice; we can complain about Stephen Weiss' lack of production; we can complain about a lot of things in Detroit at the moment.
However, speaking poorly about Gustavsson's play is basically libel. On a Red Wings team with a lot of wrinkles to iron out, goaltending depth is not an issue and it has showed early on with Gustavsson's strong play.
The 2013-14 version of Gustavsson has looked quite different than the one fans are normally accustomed to seeing. Jonas was known for being wildly out of position, often over anticipating the shot, and even forgetting the rules. Not this season.
Jonas has been nothing short of outstanding, and his statistics show it. Perhaps they're unsustainable and he is hot, but backup goaltenders who play every few days are not known for staying hot over a span of several weeks. So, where is this sudden rise in performance coming from?
Sure, the Monster is indeed looking more confident in the net. Jonas is reading plays much better and is in much better position to make the first save. He's sliding across the crease efficiently and his overall lateral movement looks better from years' past. While the secondary saves and rebound control could still use some work, the stability that he has shown has been much better.
Another thing Jonas has started to do more effectively is play the puck. Defensemen love when goaltenders play the puck simply because it kills the opposing team's forecheck 95% of the time, while simultaneously starting up their own breakout. The defensemen are also usually less likely to send a bonehead pass up the middle of the ice (which tends to result in a goal, Mr. Quincey).
Jonas has kept the Red Wings in games that they had no business winning, especially since the Wings surrender on average 33.285 shots on goal while Jonas is in the net. The team as a whole responds to this, and it's a major reason as to why they're winning much more in front of him than they are in front of Jimmy. Best of all, there hasn't been a game played where Jonas has given up more than three goals at even strength, something that is not necessarily outstanding, but expected.
This is what a team needs from their backup goaltender. Last season, as mentioned in the preview, Jimmy played nearly the entire schedule by himself. That won't happen in an 82 game season, of course, but the Red Wings were really banking on Jonas coming through when they needed him.
Bottom line, the Monster has broken through and drastically changed how he reads the play for the better, ultimately improving his overall game. Jonas just has to keep this going until April, or at least until Jimmy finds his groove. Without Jonas playing at this level, the Wings would be a much different story at this point in time.