TAMPA — James Reimer is a big, young man who covers a large portion of the net when he gets a chance.
But he wears a Maple Leaf on the front of his sweater, not a super hero’s uniform.
Not even Reimer the road warrior could save the sluggish leg-weary Leafs on Tuesday night at the St. Pete Times Forum, as the Lightning toyed with their northern visitors in the first period then played just enough defence for a 2-0 win.
A 17-4 first-period blitz of first period shots staked the Lightning to that two-goal lead leaving the Leafs stagger into the all-star break losers of four in a row on the road and six of seven overall.
Through 49 games, the Leafs are stuck on 43 points, just two more than they did at the same point last season.
There wasn’t much Rimer could do in this one. In fact, he’s playing better than either J-S Giguere or Jonas Gustavsson at this point and was hard to fault for either of the Tampa goals on Tuesday on the 31 shots he faced.
In fact, the result could have been much worse if, say, dangerous Lightning forward Martin St. Louis would have scored on one of his three breakaway attempts.
The odd-man rush was the theme of the night for the Leafs, in the early going anyway. Sure they picked it up in the second, but by then first-year Lightning coach Guy Boucher had his team playing the tight defence that has them on top of the Southeast Division standings.
The Leafs may have had every reason to be tired, playing their fifth game in seven nights and the Lightning seemed determined to take advantage.
When Phil Kessel drifted a harmless shot to the chest protector of Tampa goalie Dwayne Roloson three minutes into the second period, it was the Leafs’ first shot on net in more than 13 minutes. Kessel, who is all-star game bound and not likely to be drafted high by either captain in the game’s new format, hasn’t scored in seven games now.
Remember when the Leafs rang in the New Year with four consecutive road wins and seemed to be turning a corner?
It’s a distant memory now after the four away losses to end the month, a streak that included an ugly 7-0 loss to the Rangers and a 5-1 setback to the Coyotes.
The Leafs thought they had lost forward Colby Armstrong with a fractured finger in the second period but the gritty winger was back for the third and had one of his team’s better scoring chances and even dropped his gloves for a scrap with the Lightning’s Steve Downie.
Tampa opened the scoring at 5:11 of the first when Simon Gagne finished off a deft pass from Lightning defenceman Victor Hedman and then added a power play goal from Teddy Purcell at 12:44.
To their credit, the Leafs played much stronger in the second and third periods, carrying the play for much of the final 40 minutes. But when they couldn’t solve Roloson, it didn’t much matter.