PHOENIX — You know James Reimer is getting some clout around the Maple Leafs when he can make bull-headed Brian Burke change his mind.
But with each 30 or 40 save night and three of the four wins on this little streak, it became a no-brainer that the general manager would keep riding the hot goalie who pumped life into a team that was dragging its collective butt around. So Reimer isn’t headed down to the Marlies but readying himself for Thursday’s game against the Coyotes — and likely beyond.
“He’s earned a shot, we’re playing very well in front of him, it’s just common sense (to keep him),” coach Ron Wilson said after practice at Jobing.com Arena. “We have some momentum going and we’re not going to toy with that kind of karma.”
Burke did a complete turn from Monday night in Los Angeles when he was still insistent that veteran Jean-Sebastien Giguere get back in after a three-week rehab of a groin injury. But Reimer won back-to-back starts on the road and made more than 70 stops to bring his save percentage up to .949 and the Leafs to their first 4-0 run since October.
“James has a placid demeanour in the net, he’s a very economical goalie,” Burke said. “It lends itself to calm play on the rest of the team. He’s not Denis Lemieux (the shell-shocked stopper from the movie Slap Shot), flopping around in French. He has been a wall, he’s a thick body in there and when he gets bumped, he doesn’t move much.
“But I’d caution people that he’s a kid, and it’s been an extremely short run. This prosperity could end at any time, so we’re not putting too much weight on him.”
Giguere had been eyeing the Phoenix game for a long time, both for the present and to start showing Burke that he still has some good years remaining when it comes to summer contract talks. But Giguere played the part of the good soldier on Wednesday when told Reimer was back in.
“I’ve been in this situation a million times,” the 33-year-old Giguere said. “The way to deal with this is not to be mad. Reims has been playing well and you have to go with him.
“For me, the ultimate thing is to be ready when I get my call. I’m in this to win and coaches are in it to win. I want to play, but that’s what hockey is all about. Only one goalie can play at a time.”
It’s Wilson’s intention to use Giguere as the back-up against the Coyotes to help ease him back in to the lineup, but that would leave sophomore Jonas Gustavsson the odd man out. The Monster was not playing poorly when Reimer burst upon the scene, but neither was he stealing the points the way Reimer has done.
“I understand,” Gustavsson said of his lonely position. “I’m happy the team is better. I’m just going to keep pushing, because it’s a long season and you never know what’s going to happen. It’s not like it was going to be 20 or 30 weeks where I was going to play one or two games a week (the plan for he and Giguere a way, way back in October). I can push even harder in practice now, because I know I can do that and not have to worry about being tired for the next game.”
Reimer has been taking lots of calls and texts from his family in Western Canada and from many friends and ex-teammates. No one could blame him for thinking he’s on the verge of a longer stay than one more game. The Marlies are in Abbotsford, B.C., the next few days while Toronto starts a two-game home stand on Saturday against Calgary.
“Obviously those thoughts (of more permanent status) creep in your head,” Reimer said. “But as fast as they come in, you want to get them out of there. As soon as you start thinking about the big picture, you lose sight of the next puck, the next practice, the next game. You can’t allow yourself that, or give yourself the day off. Anything can happen, so I’m just focusing on small bits.
“My defencemen are doing a heck of a job clearing rebounds and they clear guys out of the way and allow me to see the puck. Right now, everyone’s clicking on the team.
“I’m excited, and a lot of people are excited for me. It’s been a joyride for me and everyone involved in my life.”
And it’s not over yet.