TORONTO – Ron Wilson wishes his young players could develop anywhere but Toronto.
The Maple Leafs coach instructed goaltender James Reimer not to let anyone know he would make his second NHL start in Monday’s 2-1 loss to the Boston Bruins. Afterwards, Wilson bristled when asked about why he chose to be evasive.
“I don’t want him to be bothered,” said Wilson. “Around here a guy wins a game and we’re ready to build a statue for him. Let the poor kid just kind of relax and focus on his game. Period. Like you would in every other damn city in this league except here.”
Toronto has been a graveyard for goalies since Reimer was drafted 99th overall in 2006. He’s the 12th different man to spend time in the team’s crease over that period and finds himself off to a good start despite taking Monday’s loss.
After getting a win in Ottawa on Saturday, the 22-year-old finished with 31 saves against the Bruins and couldn’t be faulted for either goal that got behind him.
With J.S. Giguere nearing a return from a groin injury, it had been thought Reimer would be returned to the American Hockey League before Toronto heads out on a four-game road trip at the end of the week. However, Wilson indicated that such a move wasn’t likely.
“Here he is playing well and you’re already trying to send him down,” said Wilson. “That’s what I don’t understand. Let the kid just play—he’s playing fine and we’re happy with him.”
Even though the Maple Leafs have yet to hit the halfway point, it’s becoming clear that this season will again be about trying to figure out which pieces should be part of the puzzle to help turn things around. Most figured the team would improve on last season’s 29th-place finish, but they’re currently two points worse than they were after 38 games a year ago.
That qualifies as good news for the Bruins, who again hold Toronto’s first-round draft pick. They selected Tyler Seguin second overall in June and could very likely end up with another top-five selection in 2011.
Those draft choices, plus a second-rounder used on prospect Jared Knight, came in exchange for Phil Kessel, who came close to breaking out of a slump against his former team on Monday. He led the Leafs with eight shots, but couldn’t get one past Tuukka Rask.
“Right off the bat there he had a lot of good scoring chances,” said linemate Tyler Bozak. “It seems to not go in for him too often against these guys. He’s always getting the chances. Against a lot of other teams, a lot of those chances go in.
“He’s just a little snake-bitten against these guys.”
Kessel has been held to just one assist in nine games against the Bruins since being acquired by Toronto in September 2009. The only other NHL teams he hasn’t scored on during his career—Anaheim, Calgary and St. Louis—are based in the Western Conference so he rarely faces them.
The Leafs winger has shown recent signs of improvement against the Bruins, having scored the shootout winner in a game last month. Rask’s best save against his former teammate on Monday came during the third period after Kessel beat a defenceman and got off a shot from in close.
“It was probably his best game against us that I’ve seen,” said Bruins forward Milan Lucic. “He’s got great speed and he’s so quick and he’s really good getting that shot off.”
Nathan Horton and Marc Savard scored the goals for Boston (21-11-6), which wrapped up a five-game road trip.
Mikhail Grabovski replied for the Maple Leafs (14-20-4).
It was a breakthrough night for the Bruins top line, which hadn’t scored since being put together on Dec. 20. In fact, Horton and Lucic had just one point between them in the last seven games.
They started cycling the puck in the second period and finally found some success. Horton tied the game 1-1 at 7:56 with a shot through traffic that went in off the post while Savard used a Lucic screen to beat Reimer at 15:30.
Even still, it was a good outing for Reimer, who kept his team in the game by shutting the door from there. He was almost apologetic while speaking to reporters afterwards because he had intentionally misled them in the morning when asked whether he would start against Boston.
“It’s a tough one,” Reimer said with a laugh. “(Wilson) tells me notto say. He’s the one who writes my cheques. He’s the boss.”
Notes: The score of the Canada-U.S. world junior game, which the Canadians won 4-1, was updated throughout the night. … Grabovski has nine goals over his last 12 games and became a father last week. … John Mitchell and Brett Lebda sat out for Toronto. … Rask was a first-round draft pick by the Maple Leafs in 2005. … The Leafs have only beaten Boston three times in their last 14 meetings. … Announced attendance was 19,052—the lowest of the season at Air Canada Centre.