It’s becoming rather clear that at the halfway point of this NHL season, the Toronto Maple Leafs do not have a number one goaltender.
Despite being signed over the summer to a 3-year, $5.8M deal to ostensibly become the go-to netminder, the unsettling fact is James Reimer has underperformed this season. He’s not really the guy the Leafs hoped they were getting after a solid 20-10-5 in the final half of last season.
Since his return from concussion-like symptoms on December 3 after being run over by Canadiens’ Brian Gionta, Reimer has been struggling with a save percentage below .900 and a 3.20 GAA placing him near the bottom for starting goalies.
Now the Leafs PK as we all know has been atrocious but it can only be part of the blame for Reimer’s game falling off.
Reimer returned just as back-up goalie Jonas Gustavsson was actually getting hot, going 10-8-1 in Reimer’s 18-game absence. Okay, not red hot maybe but fairly warm. At least he seemed to temporarily shake his once-a-game brain-fart of allowing an inexplicable (“I can’t believe you let that in!) soft goal that always seemed to hurt the Leafs.
Just before The Monster took over the reigns he looked like he was about to walk the plank as Reimer was rounding into form. Certainly in this corner we’d basically written him off but to his credit and an apparent quiet reservoir of compete coarsing through his Swedish veins, he bounced back and got wins for the team.
But with Reimer’s return he was again shunted to the end of the bench. Now after a dismal December with Reimer doing most of the heavy lifting, he’s gotten the team its first win of 2012 with a 7-3 victory over Tampa Bay earning him a start tonight (Thursday) against the Jets.
To be frank, neither goalie appears up to the task of solidifying a spot for himself as the number one guy in net. One or most likely both have to be up to the job because any serious slippage and poof! Leaf playoff hopes vanish faster than a standing-O for a returning Tomas Kaberle.
This is looking more and more like a platoon situation the rest of the way. It’s a struggle many teams face these days: How would you like to be the Flyers who are on the hook with the cosmically inclined Ilya Bryzgalov at $51 million big ones for the remainder of this decade? No thanks.
Fact is, only a handful of teams have a bonafide number one — even the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins are giving more starts to Tuukka Rask these days than their Vezina and Conn Smythe trophy winner Tim Thomas. But there’s no controversy because they’re both so damn good.
I’m sure the Leafs’ brass would like a clear answer to this dilemma. Nothing quite stokes the chattering mobs like an old-fashioned goaltending controversy (just ask Roberto Luongo and his best buddy Cory Schneider).
But no need to dial up 911 just yet.
Okay, so the Leafs don’t have a number one. But they may have a 1A and maybe a 2 or something close. Look at the bright side: With TWO non-starter-type goalies, each should be chomping at the bit to prove themselves every time the other falters. This could carry through right into the playoffs should the Bell-Rogers-Tannenbaum Leafs make it.
It’s really kind of a yin & yang thing happening: Reimer’s sunny optimism vs Gustavasson’s Ingmar Bergman-like gloom might result in a happy medium – a perfect psychological netminding mix of sun and cloud.
So take your pick: Gustaver or Reimersson . Pickled herring and apple pie. Might upset your stomach a bit but it’s not bad; just not a complete meal.