TORONTO - Is it okay to suggest now that James Reimer may be getting a bit tired?
In this space last week, that very suggestion was made after the rookie goaltender yielded nine goals in two games.
Leafs Nation, naturally, went ballistic. To suggest such a thing, apparently, is worse than invading the Crimea.
Well, Reimer has now started in 10 straight and Saturday night, in a 5-3 loss to the visiting Chicago Blackhawks, he looked a shadow of his recent self. The Hawks scored five goals on 19 shots against Reimer before he was pulled after two periods for J-S Giguere, though, to be fair, most of the Chicago goals were pretty good ones. Reimer wants to keep playing, though, and said that he has made it a point to pull back on his work load in practice recently as a means to conserve his strength.
“Like maybe take a few less shots,” he said. “And I’ve been trying to take care of my body with the trainers ... cold tubs and hot tubs. But it’s part of the game and I love to play games.”
Don’t expect coach Ron Wilson to deviate from his plan to start Reimer the rest of the way as the Leafs push for a playoff spot.
“He had a game similar to this in Buffalo (Feb.16) and the next time he got in, he played great,” said Wilson. “It’s just one of those things.”
Still, you got to figure, the 23-year-old must be getting a bit tired.
A VERY WISE DRAFT
Saturday’s game aside, Reimer as been a revelation for the organization, and to all those who believe the Leafs have largely been a disaster at the draft, I give you Riku Helenius, Leland Irving, Jhonas Enroth, Jeff Zatkoff, Daniel Larsson and Joe Palmer. Those are some — some — of the goaltenders selected ahead of Reimer in the 2006 NHL entry draft.
That the Winnipeg native was picked so late — 99th overall by the Leafs — belies his statistics while playing junior with the WHL Red Deer Rebels. During his three seasons in Red Deer, Reimer never posted a goals-against-average worse than 2.81 or a save percentage lower than .910. He only played in seven playoff games during his three seasons in the WHL and perhaps that lowered his ranking in the eyes of NHL teams. Still, Dave Morrison, the club’s director of amateur scouting, said the Leafs definitely had their eyes on Reimer.
“(Western scout) Garth Malarchuk did a lot of homework on James and he knew he was a good kid and that he worked hard,” Morrison said this week. “We liked his size and we liked the fact that he didn’t overplay. He was big and square and he seemed to have a feel for the game. Of course, there were a lot of things we felt he had to work on and he has.”
The Leafs selected Jiri Tlusty with their first overall pick in 2006 draft (13th overall), and that turned out to be a disappointment. But, in the big picture, that draft certainly worked out for the Leafs. With their second-round pick, 44th overall, they grabbed Russian winger Nikolai Kulemin, who played with a couple of highly regarded linemates at the world juniors — Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin. Morrison said European scout Nikolai Ladygin spoke highly of Kulemin leading up to the draft.
“We had a lot of people follow him at the world juniors,” said Morrison. “But, before that, he was pretty unknown. We really liked his strength and he would go to the dirty areas and drive to the net. And he was able to play with pretty high-end players, and that was a good sign.”
After taking Kulemin, Morrison said the Leafs traded their third-round pick for two fourth round picks — gambling that they would be able to get Reimer in the fourth. In that round, they also snatched up forward Korbinian Holzer — the first German selected by the team.
Leafs music man Jimmy Holmstrom was up to his old tricks before Saturday’s game — serenading the team from the Windy City with the song Windy by The Association, followed by Saturday In the Park by Chicago ... How fickle are some Leafs fans? Reimer, who has carried this team, was given the Bronx cheer after he made a routine save with the Hawks up 2-0 ... Hawks goaler Corey Crawford stopped three straight breakaways in the third ... A penalty shot awarded to Mikhail Grabovski in the third was the Leafs’ first since Niklas Hagman was stopped by Buffalo’s Ryan Miller on Jan.1, 2009.