Photo Credit: John E. Sokolowski/USA TODAY Sports
The Toronto Maple Leafs don’t have a goaltending controversy on their hands just yet, but things may be trending in that direction.
The Maple Leafs have been losing games in bunches despite being a much improved team at 5-on-5. There’s a few reasons for the club’s brutal start – special teams and an ugly penalty differential among them – but mostly the Leafs have struggled because they haven’t been able to count on a save from their goaltenders.
On Monday night James Reimer offered the club stability in net, for the first time in a while, and head coach Mike Babcock has taken notice – even taking the unusual step of confirming postgame on that Reimer would be his starter on Wednesday night, when the Leafs take on Reimer’s hometown Winnipeg Jets.
Honestly Babcock seemed to drink up Reimer’s sturdy goaltending performance on Monday like a long-marooned man in the desert drinks up water at an oasis.
“Absolutely he did. For sure.” — Babcock on whether Reimer did enough to deserve the start on Wednesday.
— Michael Traikos (@Michael_Traikos) November 3, 2015
In fairness, Reimer was very good, on a night in which the Maple Leafs were not. Though he was beaten by a first period Jamie Benn shot he probably should’ve been able to squeeze, Reimer settled down and was key to the Maple Leafs’ holding a lead against the most dangerous offensive team in hockey.
Reimer’s signature moment came when he absolutely robbed Patrick Sharp in the second frame:
Reimer looked really Sharp on this save. pic.twitter.com/CgvQ2RIrwK
— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) November 3, 2015
Reimer has now played five games to Bernier’s seven, and has the much higher even-strength save percentage and the better all-around save percentage. Reimer has struggled enormously on the penalty kill, but that number is likely to regress.
Overall Bernier is probably the marginally better goaltender, but the gap between the two has never been as wide as some in Toronto have believed. In my view Bernier is a low-end starter, while Reimer is a fringe starter (or a very good backup). If Reimer can get hot here, you have to think he may get a whole whack of starts.
After all, that’s generally how Babcock likes to manage his goaltending tandems.
“I like one guy to know he’s the guy and basically what you tell him is that ‘I’ll tell you when you’re not starting’,” Babcock said of his philosophy for managing goaltenders back in September
With neither Reimer nor Bernier performing well, the job is up for grabs, but if Reimer can go on a run here he may be to earn himself the lions share of starts for a prolonged period of time.
The Maple Leafs probably aren’t quite at the point of having a Jimmy Howard – Petr Mrazek situation on their hands in net at the moment, but you can see it from here. Things will certainly begin to get very interesting if Reimer can play well again on Wednesday night.