There will be many keys to success for the Maple Leafs this season; but none is more important than goaltending.
I am happy that Phil Kessel has been locked up to a long term contract. But Kessel can score all the goals he wants; with-out consistent, quality goaltending the Leafs are in trouble.
A significant improvement in goaltending last year from previous seasons was a big reason the Leafs made the playoffs and pushed the Bruins to a seventh and deciding game.
With the Leafs about to kick-off the 2013/14 regular season tonight in Montreal it is a good time to take a look back at what tonight’s starting goalie James Reimer accomplished last year.
Reimer was tied for seventh in the NHL in save percentage (.924%), a mere .002 per cent behind Corey Crawford and Henrik Lundqvist. He was 19th in the NHL with a goals against of 2.46. He had four shut-outs last year. Tuukka Rask and five other goalies were tied for the league lead with five shut-outs.
Reimer’s finest moment took place during the post-season with stellar performances in the Leafs victories over the Bruins in games five and six.
In those two games Reimer stopped 72 of 74 shots and the Leafs won both games by identical 2-1 scores.
Now what happened in the third period of game seven versus the Bruins was a disaster of biblical proportions. But you can’t blame it all on Reimer. What happened at the end of that game was the fault of the entire team, including Randy Carlyle.
In the off-season the Leafs made the deal to bring Jonathan Bernier to town.
Bernier was a nice addition but Reimer is the real key to the Leafs success this year. Bernier might have plans on taking over as the Leafs starting goalie but don’t expect Reimer to sit back and allow that to happen. Partly because of his ability, and partly because of his competitive fire the fuels him. Don’t let his “aw shucks” demeanor fool you, Reimer is intensely competitive and is on a mission to prove once and for all that he is the undisputed number one goalie in Toronto. On top of that after this year Reimer is a RFA so a good season will mean a nice raise from the current $1.8 million dollars he’s making.
The performance by both goalies in the preseason did little to change the status of Reimer as the Leafs number one goalie. In four games Reimer had a save percentage of .923 and a GAA of 2.56. Bernier also played in four preseason games and had a save percentage of .891 and a GAA of 3.75.
With back to back games on the road to start the season (What bonehead made up this schedule?) it stands to reason that Bernier will get the start Wednesday night in Philadelphia with Reimer back in net for the Leafs home opener Saturday night against the Senators.
For Dave Nonis and Randy Carlyle the addition was a win-win proposition. Either Bernier was going to be a star in camp and the preseason and then become an elite goalie. Or Reimer was going to quietly go about the business of hanging on to the starting goaltending job that he worked so hard to get in the first place.
Either way the Leafs will have a goalie between the pipes playing with a chip on their shoulder to prove to Nonis and Carlyle that they deserve to be the top dog in Toronto.
For now and until further notice James Reimer is the Leafs starting goalie. And best of luck to Bernier or anyone else who wants to take that job away from him.