It’s been a wild ride for Toronto Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer.
From being selected 99th overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, to taking the Leafs to their first playoff appearance in nine years and then being replaced that offseason, Reimer has always managed to stay positive.
“All you want is opportunities to show what you can do,” said Reimer before the 2015-16 season. “Hopefully you can seize it and make the most of it.”
Initially, bringing in Jonathan Bernier after the Leafs short stint in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs seemed like a questionable, but understandable, move for the Leafs. However, looking back on it, it seems as though diminishing the confidence of a young goaltender may have not been the best idea for Toronto.
“The kid has lost all confidence in himself,” said Don Cherry in late 2014. “He’s got to come back.”
The Leafs front office, led by Dave Nonis and Randy Carlyle, subliminally gave Reimer the message that even though you carried us through the season and playoffs, it’s still not good enough.
Bringing in a potential number one goalie would solve all of Nonis and Carlyle’s problems, however, having two almost identical young goalies sharing the number one spot may have not been the best idea.
Since then, Reimer has averaged a 0.91 save percentage and 3.07 goals against average, while Bernier has averaged a 0.908 save percentage and 2.86 goals against average.
Now with a great front office to guide the skaters, the fault of losing is back on the goaltending.
It didn’t take long for the Leafs to realize they had some goalie troubles. On the first shot of the 2015-16 season the puck hit Bernier, bounced over him, and into the net.
“I thought our [goaltender] was solid after the first shot,” said Mike Babcock after Toronto’s first game of the 2015-16 season.
Bernier isn’t the only goalie at fault for letting in bad goals early either, Reimer has had his fair share of allowing soft goals as well.
“[Reimer] has played well for us,” said Babcock. “He's given up a few squeakers he’d like to have back.”
But it’s those first shots that sneak in that have haunted the Leafs all season long. Once the goalies get past the soft ones, good things will begin to happen.
“Well I think he’s playing more confident,” said Babcock. “The other night in Washington he didn’t let in any of those squeakers. [Alexander] Ovechkin beat him on one of those ones that went out on the side that he’d like to have back.”
It’s the little things that will lead to more consistent and better efforts from the Leaf goalies.
Babcock has said he would like to have a team with one clear starter, and with Bernier injured, Reimer, once again, has to prove that he is the Leafs’ number one guy.
“Anytime you can play and play behind a team that’s playing this well, you can hit that rhythm,” said Reimer after his most recent loss to Washington in overtime. “Good things start happening once everybody starts pulling their weight so that's the way its going right now.”
For the Leafs, this season is all about progression, and right now they are progressing fairly well. Once Reimer starts catching more breaks like the Ovechkin shot that got through but missed the net, his confidence will spike. Once the skaters realize if they buy into the system good things will happen, then their confidence will spike.
“[Reimer] was solid again for us tonight,” said captain Dion Phaneuf. “[He] kept us in the hockey game, made some big, big saves down the stretch.”
If things keep going the way they are, wins will start coming and James Reimer will reclaim the starting job between the pipes in Toronto.