By Rolf Sturm
Being the eternal realist sort, part of me can’t buy into the general glee surrounding the Maple Leafs current success.
Rounding the quarter pole in this lockout-shortened season, the local team is on a four-game win streak, pounding their last two opponents (Canadiens and Flyers) 11-2 for good measure. A small sample size to be sure but at 8-5 — good enough for 5th in the east, right there with the Penguins. Strange, it doesn’t even look right when reading it.
But as any long-suffering Leafs fan knows even smallish concerns can be elevated to a full-blown crisis in the blink of a Kessel snapshot.
Just the way this market works. We’re snake-bitten and cynical. It’s hard to fight for most blue & white fans for whom the glass mostly appears half empty, anything else appearing to be a cruel mirage.
As for the dreamers and parade route planners, we’ll leave that for another day. I heard one Mickey Rooney type on the airwaves who was so pleased, he predicted a berth in the finals. Fella, get a grip.
Matt Frattin’s knee tune-up notwithstanding, my disquiet stems from James Reimer’s injury during the Flyers’ game. Anything to do with knees – especially in a butterfly-style goalie – is concerning. The official line is a week for recovery, though that seems optimistic for a strained MCL.
Once he’s cleared to play, will he hesitate or have the same effectiveness kicking those pads out? Will re-injuring it cross his mind?
The play leading to the injury was innocuous but Reimer’s reaction was anything but. He laid there for what seemed a minute and couldn’t get off the ice without help. The look on GM Dave Nonis’ face captured by the cameras said it all: He was stunned, just as many Leafs fans were too. With Reimer back on top of his game playing like he did during January 2011, this was a blow.
Reimer is a player you want to cheer for, an aw-shucks sports personality you can’t help but like. We want to see him do well for himself and the team. His recovery and remarkable return to form highlighted by a triumphant 6-0 shutout in his return to Montreal while boasting a .929 save percentage (7th overall) has been nothing less than a thrilling development. But without those kind of numbers in net to prop up their other deficiencies, the team is primed for a fall.
The uneasy fact is Reimer appears to be vulnerable to getting hurt. Is he, as has been speculated, rigorous enough for a long-term a NHL starting goalie? Three fairly serious injuries in 100 games are not confidence inspiring. The questions will begin in earnest: Does he have the chops to play 65 games at a high level in a normal season, let alone the remainder of this one?
It’ll be a tough test for back-up Ben Scrivens in the next 3-4 starts as he takes over the crease from Reimer.
If he falters, expect the Leafs’ outlook go from sunny to stormy in a hurry.