The Maple Leafs netminder has helped his team to points in his past six starts and wins in his past four. The humble small-towner is giving his teammates a lot of credit, but something has to be said for the confidence he has brought to the squad, as well.
This was not the script.
James Reimer was not expected to carry the load in Toronto this season – that was assumed to be Jonathan Bernier’s turf. But nearly a quarter into the campaign, we find Reimer on a four-game win streak, undefeated in regulation through six starts, and inspiring the troops in front of him.
In fact, amongst goalies with at least 10 appearances this season, Reimer now ranks fourth overall with a .930 save percentage – better than Pekka Rinne, Marc-Andre Fleury or Braden Holtby.
“It’s awesome, but it doesn’t surprise any of us in this room,” said Leafs center Tyler Bozak. “We expect it every night from him and he gives it to us every night.”
Toronto’s latest victory came in a swamping of the Colorado Avalanche. Reimer made 34 saves, dealing with a good amount of traffic and staving off some legit chances from deadly Avs such as Jarome Iginla and Nathan MacKinnon. But most importantly, he got lots of offensive support from his teammates. The Leafs went 4-for-5 on the power play and got a shorthanded goal early from Leo Komarov as Toronto cruised to a 5-1 win.
For a goalie who has seen some rough times in Toronto, this season has been much more fulfilling so far.
“We’re playing well as a team,” Reimer said. “We’re not missing assignments, we’re not making mistakes and if we do, someone’s there to back you up. We’re fighting for each other and that’s what makes it fun.”
A sunny guy by nature, frustration was obvious last year with Reimer, as the team in front of him was pretty sad-sack most of the time. Bozak talked about the confidence that new coach Mike Babcock has instilled in the Leafs now, while hired guns such as P.A. Parenteau and Brad Boyes have stepped up at different times (yes, Boyes has been a heathy scratch, but his no-look pass for Bozak’s goal last night was stunning). In the past five games, the Toronto offense has posted 16 goals and won a shootout.
This all helps a goalie’s mental side in a big way.
“It’s a lot harder to have success when you feel like you’re on an island,” Reimer said. “Right now, it’s not like that at all. You know that when the rush is coming, they’re going to do everything they can to either stop it from coming to the net or keep it to the outside. You can just focus on the basic, fundamentals of goaltending and not worry about anything else. It allows you to be more confident.”
Toronto’s next mission will be getting Bernier back on track. Not only will that help the team on-ice, but Reimer’s contract expires at the end of the season while Bernier is already locked in for 2016-17. It will be tough for the Leafs’ brass to argue Reimer deserves less than Bernier’s $4.1 million annual stipend if Reimer has the better stats by season’s end.