The Detroit Red Wings were shut out for the second time in three preseason games on Saturday night, as they fell to the Boston Bruins by a 2-0 score. While the loss itself was bad enough, goaltender Jonas Gustavsson did not play the third period and is now expected to miss at least two weeks with a groin injury. If this sounds like a familiar storyline, that’s because it is – Gustavsson missed almost the entire 2013 season while battling injuries, and continues to be unable to live up to the high hopes the Red Wings had for him when they signed him as a free agent in 2012.
Gustavsson ended up playing in just seven games last season, posting a 2-2-1 record with a 2.92 goals-against average. Detroit brought the former Toronto Maple Leafs netminder in to give Jimmy Howard nights off, and instead Howard became a workhorse, recording 21 wins while appearing in 42 (of 48) games. That formula might have just barely got the Red Wings to the playoffs last season, but there’s a good chance it won’t be successful over the course of a full season. Coach Mike Babcock stated his desire for Gustavsson to be able to play when the team faces games on back-to-back nights, and now the team will start the season without that option.
An incredibly tight salary cap situation further complicates things. If the Red Wings want to give top prospect Petr Mrazek a chance to back up Howard, they would have to put Gustavsson on injured reserve to clear cap space. Mrazek played two games with the Wings last season and helped lead the Grand Rapids Griffins to the AHL’s Calder Cup championship, but it remains to be seen if he is fully ready for full-time duty at the highest level. Former first round pick Tom McCollum and former Northern Michigan University standout Jared Coreau are also in the system, but neither is a reliable option at this point. McCollum put up the best numbers of his AHL career last season, but has not fared well in Detroit. Coreau looked good in preseason action, but that is his only professional experience so far.
The worst part for the Wings is that Gustavsson had played quite well before the injury, stopping 21 of 23 shots in a 2-0 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks last week and stopping 12 of 13 shots against the Bruins. He had not received much offensive support, but finally looked like the goaltender the Red Wings were hoping for. Now, the team will wait and see if the “Monster” can make a quick recovery and finally be able to help out.