SAN JOSE - James Reimer has turned the Maple Leafs around and in the process might have changed his flight plan to the minors.
After Reimer made another 40 saves in a 4-2 win over the Sharks to give the Maple Leafs three of their four straight wins, himself a tidy .947 save percentage and coach Ron Wilson 600 wins, the plan to demote him suddenly became vague.
“It’s something we’ll discuss,” Wilson said of letting general manager Brian Burke make the final decision when Jean-Sebastien Giguere is ready. “I don’t handle those types of things. We’ve been planning for awhile and Jiggy’s worked to get a game in Phoenix (Thursday). What we do beyond that, because we have a couple of guys hurt (he didn’t elaborate who) and we have room to keep him, is a decision we’l have to make down the road.”
Reimer was still wearing that care-free grin when the media asked if he’d been told anything firm about where he and Jonas Gustavsson stand as potential back-ups to Giguere, All Reimer knew was that he was flying to Phoenix to see the end of the road trip out.
“Jiggy’s close, but I’ll take it day-by-day like I have been the past week,” Reimer said. “It’s been pretty crazy, but it has been a lot of fun.”
Wilson was up on his history as the sixth man to win 600 with Scotty Bowman, Al Arbour, Dick Irvin, Pat Quinn and Mike Keenan. He had put a cash prize on the board for the players if the Leafs got him the milestone win in the home rink of the team that fired him. He thanked his many assistant coaches going all the way back to his Anaheim Duck days and his current Leaf trio of Tim Hunter, Rob Zettler and Keith Acton.
For the present, the Leafs are 4-0 for the first time since October. in between, the streaks the Leafs were 10-20-4 and are still 11 points out of a playoff spot, though they have a tradition the past few years of having a strong second half.
“We’re not going to make the playoffs in the next two weeks, this is going to be a long-term project,” Wilson said. “Probably, we’ll have to win two out of three the rest of the way (the second half started Tuesday).”
If Reimer does go back to the Marlies, the whole team should be at the airport for a tearful send-off.
The big-grin, big-game goalie from Winnipeg has done as much to change spirits in the dressing room the past couple of weeks than an actual trade would have shaken things. With Tuesday’s roller coaster win over the Sharks, Reimer brought the Leafs four wins in five decisions on the second of back-to-backs on the West Coast. Phil Kessel’s 19th of the season, helping his case as Toronto’s all-star game selection, drew the game even in the third after Reimer held the fort. Later in the third, a power-play goal by Clarke MacArthur and a rare strike by defenceman Carl Gunnarsson at 10:10 provided the lead after the second of two goals by Patrick Marleau. MacArthur added an empty netter.
With Reimer in the picture, there has been laughter and loud post-game music the past few nights where silence and sullen players had pervaded. The farm team goalie who has all the true mannerisms of an aw shucks country boy off the ice and a stoic resolve when the game starts, has made life in the murky Leaf fishbowl tolerable again.
Trying to tucker out the Leafs, San Jose got physical, lured the them into penalty trouble, but thanks to Reimer’s 18 saves in the second, the Sharks still led by just one.
Reimer also made 17 saves to nurse a one-goal lead through the third period of Monday’s 3-2 win over the Kings, with a wild 6-on-4 scramble to end the night.
“I know my role, make the saves when called upon to help the team win and nothing more,” Reimer said prior to Tuesday’s game at the HP Pavillion.
“There are pretty good players in this league. You have to give them respect and credit, but I just try to shut everything out and focus on the puck.”
It’s hard not to like his attitude. Management and coaches are impressed by his “economical” stand-up style, he’s getting grudging respect from the opposition (coach Todd McLellan of the Sharks was lamenting the lack of info on Reimer before Tuesday night) and he finds it hard to tell the media he’s not playing, even when coach Ron Wilson instructs him to says the opposite.
“He’s been unbelievable,” said MacArthur. “He’s confident and he gives us confidence.”
Even the zebras are cordial towards the 22-year-old.
“The refs come by a lot and I always like to talk to them and establish a good relationship,” Reimer said. “I talk about different plays with them. They’ve all been good. They obviously know I’m a rookie. A couple of them after the game have come up to me and said ‘good job’ or ‘congrats’, but not too much.”
Tuesday’s intensity was revved up in the middle period after Colton Orr went to put a shoulder into Logan Couture, led with his knee instead and sent the rookie limping off with a painful looking joint injury of his own. There were many chippy plays after as the Sharks tried to avenge Couture. MacLellan said he had no report on Couture but was “disappointed” a major penalty was called on Orr.
Reimer, a third-round pick from 2006 played with the Red Deer Rebels and then really impressed his NHL employers by winning the ECHL title with the South Carolina Stingrays in 2009. Last year, he split the Marlie duties with Joey MacDonald. After a couple of call-ups where he wasn’t used, Reimer was tossed into a blowout loss to Atlanta and looked comfortable ever since.
“I just like the NHL atmosphere. The (game operations) people do a great job making it an exciting for everyone. You notice the crowd a little bit. You try and focus on the puck, but you notice all the flashing lights and the noise.”
Gustavsson has made strides from last year and if given the offensive support Reimer has has in his four wins - 20 goals - The Monster’s numbers would look better.
That’s why Burke’s much trumpeted signing from the summer of 2009 will stay active, at least until it’s judged he or the recovering Giguere aren’t effective as the 1-2 tandem that was envisioned.