Editor’s Note: 1. This is our first entrant in our search for Fresh Blood at TLN. Every possible contributor will get three posts to strut their stuff and then we’ll ask you readers to help us choose who is going to join. 2. THIS IS IMPORTANT: It was written before last night’s Reimer Resurrection.
By Dave McClelland @dbmcclelland
Until the end of October, James Reimer had been having an amazing year. The 24 year-old netminder came out of nowhere to wrestle the Leafs starting goaltender position away from Jonas Gustavsson and veteran J.S. Giguere. He even managed to win the hearts and minds of fickle, cynical Leafs fans, earning nicknames like Optimus Reim and the Reiminister of Defence. He even began the 2011 season by shutting out the rival Montreal Canadiens.
But it didn’t last.
Playing again against the Canadiens on October 22, Montreal winger Brian Gionta collided with Reimer, who left the game after the first period, to be replaced by Gustavsson. The rest is familiar history to Leafs fans, with Reimer out for over a month with concussion-like symptoms, and a less-than-triumphant return, posting just three wins in 17 starts since coming back on December 3.
Editor’s Note: Glen Healy saying that James Reimer was being theatrical. Fuck that guy.
And while Reimer has definitely looked shakey since his return, I wanted to try to quantify his play, and see how his pre- and post-injury goals against compared. Unfortunately, this is difficult to do, as there aren’t really any advanced stats for goalies yet, so there’s no real way to judge the quality of his play statistically beyond save percentage. Though my internal baseball fan insisted that I could probably make something up by multiplying three unrelated things together and then dividing by a fourth, I decided that wasn’t the best approach. So instead, I watched all the goals that had been scored against him this year, and classified them one of three ways.
First, there are "soft" goals. These are goals that I feel most NHL goalies should have stopped, like long, unscreened shots, or shots with minimal passing. Next, there are "good" goals, those that probably would have gone in on most goalies, generally due to good puck movement or rebound control. Finally, there are goals scored due to defensive error, most often a defencemen chasing the puck or abandoning the shooting lane on a penalty kill. Obviously, this is pretty subjective, but I’ve been watching hockey long enough to have some idea of what is and isn’t a good goal.
So what did I learn? Two things: first, watching the replays for that many goals against the Leafs is rather depressing. But secondly, and more importantly, while Reimer hasn’t been great, he may not have been as bad as we think. Here’s the numbers I came up with:
|Soft goals||Good goals||Defensive errors|
Unfortunately, we’re dealing with a pretty small sample size here, especially his pre-injury numbers. But I think we can get some sense of how things have changed. In October, most of the goals he allowed were either good or caused by a defensive miscue. After returning from injury, nearly a third of the goals he’s given up looked stoppable. But what really struck me is how many goals I was able to blame on the Leafs defence. There was a time, looking at mid-to-late-December games, where I couldn’t believe how often the defence left Reimer hanging.
Of course, this brings up shades of last season with Gustavsson, where the team often seemed to lose confidence in him, and played poorly in front of him. Reimer hasn’t looked particularly sharp, to be sure, as he often gets caught deep in his crease, and opponents have exposed his glove side as a massive weak spot in recent months, but I have to wonder if part of the problem is how the rest of the Leafs deal with below-average goaltending. Good teams find ways to win even when they don’t have every part working, and it is somewhat troubling to see this happening to two different goaltenders. I’d have to do a similar comparison of Gustavsson’s recent stretch of solid play and his struggles last season to get a better idea of how the team reacts to each of their struggles.
So, while Reimer has certainly not been the goalie he was in the second half of the 2010-11 season, I think there’s some evidence to suggest that the Leafs, as a team, need to do more to support their goaltenders when they struggle. As much as anything, this is probably yet another sign of a young, maturing team, and something that they will probably work out in time.
Reimer thanks his dad for the help with the posts.
Editor’s Note: Dave’s worries clearly struck a chord with Reimer and he proved his mettle.