OTTAWA – James Reimer couldn’t stop smiling Saturday night, and who could blame him?
After watching Jonas Gustavsson start 11 of 12 games in goal for the Maple Leafs in January, Reimer made 49 saves for his second straight shutout as Toronto beat the Ottawa Senators 5-0.
The 23-year-old admitted he hadn’t been feeling overly confident about his game following his return from a head injury, but said he’s determined to regain the form that made him Toronto’s No. 1 goaltender last season.
“I really wanted to step it up a bit and the only way I know how is to work hard and do what I think is right and so I went home and got in a little better shape (during the all-star break),” Reimer said. “I never could have guessed that it would come with back-to-back shutouts; that’s a lot of fun to experience.”
Reimer made 25 saves on Wednesday in a 1-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Leafs also had a solid outing from Phil Kessel who had a three-point night, including the game-winning goal.
Dion Phaneuf, Tyler Bozak, Luke Schenn and Cody Franson also scored for the Leafs (27-19-6).
Ottawa’s Craig Anderson, making his 17th straight start and 50th appearance, had little help from his teammates as he faced 40 shots.
With their sixth straight loss, the Senators are looking at their longest winless streak since they went 0-9-2 last season.
The Senators remain in seventh in the Eastern Conference, but the Leafs are just one point back in eighth and Washington is just three points back in ninth. Both teams have games in hand on Ottawa.
“I mean there’s urgency no question, panic’s not the right word,” said Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson. “We need to find a way to dig deep here and work towards getting better in a lot of areas…everybody’s got to come together and find one gutsy effort to build on.”
The Senators realize this black hole could be insurmountable if they allow it to get much bigger.
“Right now we’re in a down point and it’s just a matter of how quick we can turn this thing around,” said Senators forward Jason Spezza. “We’ve still got ourselves in the cluster of teams in the playoffs so it’s no time to quit or get real down on ourselves.”
Spezza called this “definitely the worst loss,” but said the team needs “to take a breath and relax and realize we’re still in a fairly good position, not as good as we were in two weeks ago, but still in that battle and still a lot of hockey left to play.”
The Senators have made a habit of rallying to win this season, but the hole was too deep as they entered the third period trailing 3-0.
Any hope quickly died as Schenn made it 4-0 early in the period and Franson’s power-play goal completely deflated Ottawa.
Playing their second game in as many nights, the Senators got into trouble early as the Leafs jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period. The Senators had two early powerplay opportunities, but couldn’t connect on either.
“I thought those penalty kills were really big for our team,” Phaneuf said.
The Leafs have not allowed a power-play goal in their last 14 games.
Midway through the period Kessel picked up his own rebound and beat Anderson through the legs to open the scoring.
Toronto made it 2-0 late in the period with the man advantage as Kessel found an open Phaneuf, who beat Anderson with a quick wrister.
“Phil’s got great vision,” Phaneuf said. “He’s got great hands and he showed it there with that pass through the seam. He put it right on my tape.”
Despite outshooting the Leafs 21-9 in the second Ottawa could not find a way to beat Reimer.
Bozak gave the Leafs a commanding 3-0 lead with his ninth of the season as he broke in around the defence and lifted a backhander over a sprawled Anderson.
Phaneuf said the atmosphere in the building was energizing and with so many Leafs on hand almost felt like a home game.
“Any time we come here the fans are great supporting us,” he said. “The fans are so loud and it’s a great atmosphere to be a part of. It had a playoff type atmosphere.”
With three more home games remaining in this homestand the Senators will need to make some quick adjustments if they hope to remain in the playoff hunt.
Notes: Saturday’s game was the second annual Bell Sens Youth Mental Health Night in support of D.I.F.D. (Do It For Daron), a youth-driven program focused on raising awareness and inspiring conversations about youth mental health…The Senators were without C Peter Regin (shoulder, out for season), C Jesse Winchester (concussion, indefinitely). D Brian Lee (lower body, day-to-day). Toronto’s D Mike Komisarek, LW Darryl Boyce and LW Jay Rosehill were healthy scratches.