TORONTO – James Reimer is next in the firing line for the Toronto Maple Leafs, but it remains to be seen who will be occupying the net when the team’s homestand wraps up next week.
With a full-blown goaltending controversy raging, coach Ron Wilson elected to start Reimer against the San Jose Sharks on Thursday night.
Leafs general manager Brian Burke added fuel to the fire Wednesday by telling a Toronto radio station he was looking at adding a goaltender before Monday’s trade deadline. That revelation hit like a bombshell and prompted the team to keep Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson from speaking to reporters Thursday morning.
However, Wilson tried to downplay the potential impact of Burke’s comments.
“Before that was said, where’s our goaltenders’ confidence anyway? It probably hasn’t been very good for the last couple of weeks,” said Wilson. “But a good game will turn that thing right around. James gets the start tonight, he’s got to stop pucks, he knows that.
“The other stuff he can’t control. He can only control how well he plays.”
It’s hardly the time of year for a team to be looking for a No. 1 goaltender.
Neither Reimer nor Gustavsson has been able to take full control of the role this season—although Gustavsson had put together a fairly solid two-month stretch prior to allowing three bad goals during a 4-3 overtime loss to New Jersey on Tuesday night.
That is part of a 1-5-1 stretch the eighth-place team in the Eastern Conference has been riding since Feb. 7. The Leafs were outscored 29-14 in those games.
With rumours swirling and radio lines jammed with concerned fans, the players are trying to rally around their goaltenders.
“It doesn’t come down to one guy or two guys, it’s a collective group of the six guys that are on the ice, including the goalie,” said captain Dion Phaneuf. “We’ve got to play hard in front of our goalies.”
The Sharks are dealing with goaltending struggles of their own. Antti Niemi and backup Thomas Greiss have both been off their games during a season-long, nine-game road trip that makes its seventh stop in Toronto.
However, Sharks GM Doug Wilson pledged support in his goaltenders Wednesday and has instead focused his deadline shopping on adding a forward and a defenceman. This tends to be a tough time of year on players in every NHL dressing room, according to San Jose coach Todd McLellan.
“I think the players that are affected the most are the ones that aren’t playing very well because they are genuinely concerned,” he said. “If it’s really in your head, you have to look at yourself in the mirror: `Am I playing well? Should people be talking about me?’ ”
There was no denying the sense of urgency in the air during Thursday’s morning skate.
After facing the Sharks, the Leafs have just one game remaining prior to the trade deadline—Saturday against Washington. By the time the team wraps up a four-game homestand against Florida on Tuesday, there is likely to be some new faces in the dressing room.
“Everybody’s hearing certain things here and there,” said Leafs defenceman Cody Franson. “My name’s popped up in a couple (rumours), there’s other guys that are in the same boat. It’s trade deadline and guys are coming to the rink prepared for anything right now.”