EL SEGUNDO, Cal. - The Maple Leafs must have felt they struck it rich before they even made it to the Golden State.
* They have 14 regulation goals the past two games, 20 in the past four and two - going on three - lines that have been scoring.
* James Reimer has given them another option in goal, both this week and down the road, whether or not Jean-Seabstien Giguere can overcome groin issues or if Jonas Gustavsson can’t hold the No. 1 job. Both Giguere and energy winger Mike Brown could also return to the lineup by Thursday’s game in Phoenix.
* Winger Colby Armstrong’s scratched right cornea, while requiring a huge eyepatch and keeping him from Sunday’s practice here, is not as serious as feared.
* Question marks still cloud areas such as team defence, penalty killing and most of all, playoff hopes, but the first half of the season doesn’t actually end until Monday night in Los Angeles and a third win would nudge them ahead of last year’s pace and be the longest streak this term since the 4-0 start.
Of course, back-to-back road games against the Kings and San Jose Sharks could put a clamp on the goal rush before this trip even gets to Arizona.
And after leaving the answer of Reimer’s return to the AHL Marlies open-ended, coach Ron Wilson now confirms it will come as soon as Giguere is cleared.
“This week, he’ll probably have to go back before we activate Jiggy,” Wilson said. “But he’s got some great experience, we have faith that he can get the job done and that’s a real bonus for us right now. We have two other goalies down there playing well, too, (Jussi Rynnas and Ben Scrivens). You can only use one goalie at a time, but it gives (general manager) Brian Burke some options.”
Had the Leafs not understandably let up when ahead 9-1 on Friday in Atlanta, Reimer would be going into Monday’s game against the Kings with just four goals against in 10 periods.
“I’m trying to make the most of every opportunity they give to me,” Reimer said. “Jiggy’s coming back and I won’t get too many more, so hopefully, we get a win.”
Wilson had heard reports of how well Reimer was doing on the farm, but he was saddled two years with Vesa Toskala, then Gustavsson arrived in 2009 and finally came the trade for Giguere. Reimer had to wait for his break.
“No one sees all the work Reimer has done the past three years to earn this shot and take advantage of the opportunity,” Wilson praised. “He hasn’t had any distractions, but he’s a calm, confident kid, anyway. A couple of years ago he won the East Coast Hockey League championship (with the South Carolina Stingrays) and (then-Leafs’ goalie coach) Corey Hirsh couldn’t believe how hard he worked.”
Both Wilson and Burke have used the term “economical” to describe Reimer’s stand-up style.
“He follows the puck really well and he smothers things,” summed up Wilson. “The work he’s put in, buying into Francois Allaire’s style of goaltending...he’s got the body to do it.
“We’re always looking for people with hockey sense to go with his skills and from what I see, he has a lot for a goalie.”
New assistant coach Allaire definitely had a strong influence.
“I try not to flop around too much and use too much energy,” Reimer said. “Francois likes it that way, push when you have to push and let the puck come to you.”
Getting an eight-goal cushion helps, too. Every member of the Mikhail Grabovski-Nikolai Kulemin-Clarke MacArthur line had two goals against the Thrashers.
“They’ve clearly been our best line, on the power play as well,” Wilson noted. “Two of them kill penalties regularly. With Armstrong back, we have a decent third line and we’ve gotten contributions, usually a goal a game if not more, from them in the past two weeks. Phil Kessel is showing signs of finishing off plays. You find some balance that wasn’t there before.”
The Leafs spent Saturday travelling from Atlanta to Los Angeles, the first trip in recent memory they’ve made a three-time zone jump to play twice within 72 hours. But two wins kept the complaints to a minimum.
“I think we’re fine,” Wilson said.