We all know one thing is practically certain following the Wild's 7-3 loss to Los Angeles on Thursday night. The Gus Bus will be rolling Saturday when the Wild plays host to Columbus.
It's how the Wild plans to use their goaltenders this season. If someone gets on a roll, they will stay between the pipes. If not, the backup that day is a pretty good option.
The venerable Marc-Andre Fleury started on Thursday as Filip Gustavsson looked on from the bench. The Gus Bus is owner of a new three-year, $11.25 million contract. Fleury is the one who has won three Stanley Cup championships, been the playoffs in 17 consecutive seasons and is winding down a Hall of Fame career.
The Wild defense needed to tighten some things up on Thursday, but Fleury could be questioned on the first, third and fourth goals scored by the Kings.
Carl Grundstrom opened the scoring in the first when he beat Fleury over his left shoulder. Los Angeles center Pierre-Luc DuBois was credited with a goal that broke a 2-2 tie with less than a minute to go in the first period. He appeared to kick the puck before it skidded to the net and snuck between Fleury's legs. The replay folks in Toronto ruled that the puck touched a stick for a confirmed goal. The announced crowd of 18,689 objected. Coach Dean Evason said he had yet to find a replay angle that shows the puck being touched. But the issue is that Fleury couldn't close the barn doors fast enough on the skidding puck. DuBois' second goal came 12 seconds later, when he buried one in a corner after Fleury's clearance attempt had less than the desired effect.
"I think the last one of the period, I did a bad play when I tried to rim it to a wing and their guy picked it up," Fleury said. "Then a scramble in front again."
Two goals for DuBois 12 seconds apart — the fastest goals scored against the Wild by the same player. If the third goal is waved off, the fourth goal likely doesn't happen. Fleury's stat line is much different and the Wild don't come out frustrated in the second. Instead, Evason was asked if he was looking for the keys to the Gus Bus after that first period.
"No. Just because of the way the goal went in," Evason said. "If we know anything, he's going to compete to keep the puck out of the net. Which he did."
Trevor Moore piled on by beating Fleury midway through the third period. The defense can't be blameless here, but Fleury wasn't his sharpest. At least not as sharp as he was on Tuesday in his emotional return to Montreal.
"When you give up that many goals, it's not just the defense, it's not just the goalie," Evason said. "We all made mistakes."
A year ago, Gustavsson probably would be the choice to play following such a game, anyway. It was more of a timeshare between the two, as Fleury started 45 games while Gustavsson started 37. It worked remarkably well, as Fleury proved he still had game while Gustavsson was second in the league in goals-against average and save percentage. The Wild looked like geniuses for landing Gustavsson before right before the opening faceoff of last season in exchange for Cam Talbot — the same Talbot who started for the Kings on Thursday.
Instead of repeating last season's approach, the Wild have indicated that ice time will have to be earned. This is the right move. Besides, Devan Dubnyk is the last Wild goalie to start at least 60 games in a season since 2018-19. The Wild are used to, or have been forced to, mix the goalies up.
Gustavsson wants to prove that last season wasn't a case of everything breaking his way like the 2022 Vikings. Fleury doesn't want to be the confirmed backup in what could be his final season. And both want to be the guy the Wild can rely on if they make the playoffs. It keeps both players hungry. The hot goalie will get the next start.
Gustavsson should get that opportunity on Saturday. This is the new plan that, in the end, benefits the Wild.