Will the real James Reimer please stand up? For that matter, will the real Toronto Maple Leafs please stand up?
Since coming back from the whiplash (concussion) injury that kept him out of the lineup for six weeks, Reimer has allowed at least three goals in seven of his 10 starts, including four in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Carolina Hurricanes at the RBC Center on Thursday.
Is it rust? Or is he simply fighting the puck. The jury remains out on that one.
Of course, there was plenty of blame to go around.
The Leafs blew a 3-1 lead in the final 10 minutes of regulation, crumbling under the pressure of the oncoming Canes. Then, with Tim Connolly in the penalty box, Eric Staal scored the power play winner with just 1:51 remaining in OT.
Staal, whose name has been linked to the Leafs in trade rumours, had two goals and an assist in the game.
While the single point allowed the Leafs to remain in the top eight of the eastern conference standings, they are now 0-1-1 on this three game trip which finishes in Winnipeg on Wednesday.
The Leafs were coming off a disappointing 5-3 loss in Florida on Tuesday, a game in which a wobbly Reimer struggled from the get go. After being beaten three times on the first seven shots against the Panthers, he was given the hook in favour of backup Jonas Gustavsson.
But if there were any concerns of a carryover from his poor outing in the Sunshine State, Reimer quickly put them to rest.
“Forgotten all about it,” Reimer said after the Leafs morning skate.
It didn’t look that way in the early going on Thursday night. Indeed. Just 4:15 into the game, the Canes took a 1-0 lead Brandon Sutter beat Reimer with a wrist shot to the top corner.
“I played with Reimer a bit in junior, so I had a bit of an idea what to do,” Sutter said.
Instead of wilting, however, the Leafs responded with three consecutive goals to take a 3-1 lead.
Nazem Kadri tied the game at 1-1 just 1:43 into the second period on a nifty wraparound play that beat Cam Ward. It was Kadri’s third goal in four games since being called up by the AHL Marlies.
“I did have some flaws I needed to fix and I realize that,” said Kadri, who finally is resembling the player the Leafs drafted in the first round in 2009. “I had some hard times going up and down a few times. But I didn’t quit. I put my nose to the grindstone and kind of fixed everything I had to. There are things I need to work on but I definitely feel I am a more complete player.
“The attention to detail is so huge in this league. One little mistake can cost you. It’s been fun. I fixed what I had to, playing in all three zones. I think I’m a better player for it.”
The first two periods resembled the type of eye-glazing hockey of the post-lockout era when the red line and tight checking often turned the pace of the game into the type of contest only a snail could love.
But with the score tied 1-1, the teams exploded into some real entertaining firewagon hockey in the third.
Nilolai Kulemin broke the deadlock at 6:36 with his fourth goal of the season to put Toronto up 2-1. It was only the second time he had scored since Oct. 22.
Less than two minutes later, Joffrey Lupul upped the Toronto lead to 3-1, giving the visitors what appeared to be an insurmountable lead against the offensively challenged Canes.
Not so fast.
Just 40 seconds after Lupul’s goal, Eric Staal somehow was allowed to get behind a porous Leaf defence and beat Reimer on the ensuing breakaway to narrow the gap to 3-2. Linemates Jiri Tlusty, a former Leaf, and Zac Dalpe drew assists on the play.
Then, only 122 seconds after the Staal goal, the line struck again. This time it was Dalpe doing the damage, tying the game 3-3 during a wild scramble at the side of the Toronto net at 11:50.