After an impressive run of games to close out the season, it’s hard not to get giddy and optimistic about the Maple Leafs’ chances this fall. The biggest difference in the last thirty or so games of the year compared to recent Leaf teams has been the long-awaited installment of a reliable goaltender who gives you a chance to win every night. James Reimer gave this team that every night and more. Although he was hands down an inspiration between the pipes during that stretch, it may be wise to temper our expectations of the sophomore netminder heading into his first full season in the NHL. Let me tell you why.
The last time Reimer played even 60 games in a season came way in 2006-2007 for the Red Deer Rebels. Since that time, he’s started less than 30 games in every single season other than last year when the Maple Leafs leaned on him heavily down the stretch. And hats off to James for biting the bullet and working his butt off every night, but the lack of rest really caught up to him and quickly.
Alright, I’ve got some numbers for you to chew on. Let’s start chronologically by month:
In January, Reimer posted a 2.31 GAA and .932 SV%. In February, that dipped slightly to 2.36 and .926 SV%. In March? 2.87 GAA and .913 SV%. By the time April rolled around, we’re now at 2.94 GAA and .909 SV%. Certainly an obvious and potentially worrisome trend.
The same pattern emerges when looking at game-to-game statistics:
When starting with with 3+ days rest, Reimer posted a sparkling 1.81 GAA and .947 S%.Â However, with the benefit of 2 days rest, he impressed with a 2.05 GAA and .936 SV%. However, with only 1 days rest, Reimer produced an ugly 3.50 GAA and .895 SV%.
What does it mean?
It means that the Maple Leafs should find themselves with a very refreshed and very capable starting goaltender right out of the gate, but one whose performance may fade as he fatigues down the stretch. The coaching staff will have to be very diligent in managing Reimer’s workload, balancing the desire to win on a game-to-game basis with the potential long-term implications of the youngster hitting a wall in the second half. It means that the team needs to be more disciplined with less penalty kills. It means effective puck movement up the ice and less time spent in the defensive zone. It means having to be much more aggressive in turning to Jonas Gustavsson not only with back-to-back games, but also with those three games in four nights type of deals.
It also means that Jonas Gustavsson may be on a very short leash. Without a reliable veteran goaltender in the fold, the back-up job seems to have fallen into his lap by default, but it may be stripped away from him very quickly if he struggles. The team simply cannot afford to lean on Reimer in the same way they did to close out 2011. With two very capable young goaltenders in Ben Scrivens and Jussi Rynnas just a phone call away, Jonas better be looking over his shoulder.
The goaltending situation in Toronto may prove to be much more fluid that originally expected for next season, but it is fraught with plenty of youth and upside. There’s lots to be excited about. Just don’t get too carried away.