There is a rather telling trend between the pipes in Toronto, one that has been going on since Monster was originally courted and brought overseas: Competition.
It just seems as though it would come so natural, athlete vs athlete in a head to head competition. The reward? Be the #1 goalie with the biggest team in the hockey universe, arguably the pinnacle of the sport. Why wouldn’t this be the best way to go? Just a look around the League and you can see where this approach has produced all stars.
In St. Louis there is Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliot. Last season both goalies were handed their starting roles and failed to live up to expectations. This season Halak is playing at his highest level since wrangling the starter role from Carey Price in Montreal. And Elliot, embarrassingly bad with Ottawa and Colorado, would be a no contest Vezina winner if he played more than half of the Blues’ games.
It doesn’t end there; Tim Thomas found a new resolve when his job was lost to heir apparent Tukka Rask a few seasons ago. In Florida it is perennial backups Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen splitting duty with renewed success. Go back a decade and the first playoff appearance for the Ottawa Senators was due in part to the elevated play and determination of Damien Rhodes and Ron Tugnutt to make their mark as starters in the bigs. Not to mention the perennial battle on Long Island to fill the massive void left by the Porcelain Protector of the cage, Rick Dipeitro, that has led to resurgences for Dwayne Roloson, Al Montoya and Evgeni Nabokov.
But this formula does not work for everyone. Look at the aforementioned Price, whose play plummeted when he had to compete for his job. This is similar to what is happening in Toronto this season. When James Reimer broke in last year there was not supposed to be a chance for him to compete for a starting job. So without this pressure he just went out thinking of the future. When he was called back up he was the clear #1. Monster and Giggy had been effectively shut down for the season so it was an extended audition for the new guy. Jump to the start of this season: Reimer posting solid numbers as the undisputed front man before he apparently concussed himself. (I thought he got hit in the head by a Hab, but Shanny thought otherwise.)
Enter the Monster. Bad out of the gate and with Ben Scrivens being handed the reins Monster’s fight for ice time continued. When Reimer, no longer the only option, returned he was clearly feeling the effects of the injury and Monster was given his shot. One good start became three then Monster was given #1 status. The promise of consecutive starts led to the best month of Monster’s career. But when he faltered Reimer was sent back in the net and the competition started in earnest. The results have been disastrous. Right now neither goalie looks like an NHL regular, much less a starter. History has shown both thrive when they are the #1 man, and while fighting for starts they start to fight the puck.
You have to wonder if this carousel of starts is really the best way to handle to manage these two young, unproven netminders. Some athletes thrive on competition, others need job security to get over the mental hurdles. Which do we have here?