SAN JOSE — If James Reimer does go back to the Marlies on Wednesday, the whole Maple Leafs team should go to the airport and wave him off.
He has done as much to change spirits in the dressing room the past couple of weeks than an actual trade would have shaken things. There was 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 Leafs fishbowl tolerable again.
When he made 17 saves to nurse a one-goal lead through the third period of a 3-2 win over the Kings in L.A., on Monday with a wild 6-on-4 scramble to end the night, the Leafs were looking at a chance to go 4-0 for the first time since October.
“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 against the San Jose Sharks 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” standup 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 finds it hard to tell the media he’s not playing, even when coach Ron Wilson instructs him to say the opposite.
“He’s been unbelievable,” said winger Clarke 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.”
Reimer needed some help in a wild scramble at the end of the L.A. game with the puck underneath him, jamming away.
“In the last minute of the game, the other team is always going to push hard,” he said. “I didn’t see where the puck was, the rebound went under my glove and their guy whacked at it underneath. I lost sight of it and guys were grabbing around my legs. So I had to curl them and had no idea if the puck was in. From the angle I saw, it wasn’t.”
There followed some tense moments as the NHL war room in Toronto checked the replay.
“We don’t have video review in the American Hockey League,” Reimer joked.
But the video review went Reimer’s way and the puck stayed out, as it did on a blast from defenceman Drew Doughty, one of the best gunners in the league.
“I didn’t know who was shooting to be honest,” Reimer said. “It’s just basic movement at practice, push out be square and react to the shot from there.”
The 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 callups when he wasn’t used, Reimer was tossed into a blowout loss against Atlanta in his NHL debut and looked comfortable.
“I just like the NHL atmosphere. The (game operations) people do a great job making it an exciting for everyone,” he said. “You notice the crowd a little bit. You try and focus on the puck, but you notice all the flashing lights and the noise.”
Hearing him discuss simple mechanics is a welcome relief after almost two years of watching Jonas Gustavsson struggle with the finer points of his game. Yet Gustavsson has made strides from last year and if given the offensive support Reimerhas has received in his three wins — 17 goals — the Monster’s numbers would look better.
That’s why GM Brian Burke’s much-trumpeted signing from the summer of 2009 will stay active while Reimer is demoted, at least until it’s judged he or the recovering Jean-Sebastien Giguere aren’t effective as the 1-2 tandem that was envisioned.
Giguere is ready to return Thursday in Phoenix from three weeks off with a second bothersome groin injury, intending to win back his job in the seven games before the NHL all-star break. But there will be a new contender for his job.