TORONTO – For once, it was all good for a Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender that they got badly outshot.
The Leafs gave up 18 shots and put nine on net in James Reimer’s half of his pre-season debut, and Reimer stopped all of them. Even after the Ottawa Senators came back to win 4-3 in a shootout, the most positive result of the split-squad game at Air Canada Centre on Wednesday night was Reimer’s strong performance.
“Exhibition’s all about getting ready,” Reimer said. “It’s all about shaking off the rust and getting prepared. The more shots, the more work. Obviously it pays off more when the season starts.”
Reimer, whose struggles played a role in an eight-game losing streak late last season that destroyed Toronto’s playoff chances, got a nice round of applause from the crowd when shown on video screens after working a perfect 30 minutes 14 seconds.
“I’ve said it a million times: The fans here are unbelievable, and I love playing in this city and I love playing in front of them,” Reimer said. “Obviously to get a little love, it’s great.”
The Leafs led 2-0 on goals by Nazem Kadri and Jake Gardiner (on the power play) when Reimer gave way to Christopher Gibson. Shane Prince scored for the Senators, and James van Riemsdyk answered for Toronto.
Alex Chiasson (short-handed) and Ryan Dzingel scored for Ottawa to force overtime, and Milan Michalek had the shootout winner. Robin Lehner played the entire night and stopped 24 of the 27 shots he faced.
The Leafs were outshot 35-27 overall.
“We had chances,” said Leafs rookie William Nylander, who said he felt calmer with the puck in his second pre-season game. “We had chances to win the game.”
The Senators also won the game between the teams at Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa thanks to two goals by Bobby Ryan. The final score was 3-2, but Daniel Winnik had a chance to tie it in the final seconds when he hit the post.
Before there was shootout drama in Toronto, Reimer shut the door in his first work in a Leafs uniform since last season’s collapse. The 26-year-old, who signed a two-year deal over the summer as a restricted free agent, has said in training camp he intends to compete with Jonathan Bernier for the No. 1 job.
Coach Randy Carlyle, who has continued to call Bernier and Reimer “1A and 1B” goaltenders, said after exhibition glimpses of each that “the evaluation will continue on Friday night.”
The Leafs expect to have another round of cuts before taking the ice Friday night at the Buffalo Sabres, when they could have injured forwards Tyler Bozak and David Clarkson in the lineup.
By then, the Leafs could be ready to give a goaltender a full game’s worth of action. But Reimer didn’t mind easing in to the pre-season.
“You start with the half-game, it’s just a nice baby step into getting things going,” Reimer said. “Obviously the biggest part of goaltending is being mentally focused for 60 minutes and that’s a task in itself, let alone not doing it for six months.
“When you can get in there and kind of get your rhythm and play a half-game to start, it’s something I prefer.”
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