TORONTO - When is too early to worry about James Reimer?
After a couple of suspect goals to start Monday’s game against the Ottawa Senators, it was starting to look like the purported backbone of this team was on the clock.
While Reimer has been sharp at times in training camp, the Leafs’ No. 1 netminder entered Monday’s play with an 0-2 record in two starts.
He was headed for 0-3 in a hurry after poor rebound control on the first Ottawa goal and nearly falling on his rear on the second.
Would three losses in three complete games sow the seeds of panic? With some it might have.
But Reimer’s reputation is getting better as games go on and when the team rallied in front him, he was ready to do his part.
More work for league disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan, who will be taking a close look at the Chris Neil hit that KO’d arguably the best player on the ice, Mikhail Grabovski.
The Leafs forward was cruising deep in his own zone and with the puck nowhere around, Neil clocked him.
Neil appeared to be telling his teammates on the Ottawa bench that he didn’t see the Leafs forward, but at the last second it looked like he subtly veered to his right for the hit.
Not an easy call, but Neil does have a reputation for living on the edge and there was clear contact to the head. After a brief trip to the quiet room, Grabovski returned but with the precedents of this week, will it matter?
“From where I was, he tried to run him over,” forward Clarke MacArthur told Leafs TV. “I thought it was a cheap shot.”
WHO IS NO. 1?
No denying that the Nik Kulemin-Grabovski-Clarke MacArthur line is ready for opening night. They may be the only line with little to prove in camp, but they were flying Monday, scoring three of the five Leafs goals. Big-time offensive plays have been few and far between in the pre-season for the Leafs but Grabovski’s looking off the Ottawa D and then blasting one in the top corner for Toronto’s first goal is among the best ... On the second, Kulemin looked like the power forward the Leafs crave. The bigger he plays, the better he plays and when Kulemin put his shoulder down and ploughed his way to the net, he eventually banged in his own rebound. That’s Brian Burke hockey, folks, though something he hasn’t seen a great deal of in Toronto.
For those rushing to put Keith Aulie on the bubble among Leafs defenceman, remember this: Captain Dion Phaneuf put in some of his best work as a Leaf with the rookie as his partner last season. Aulie is at his most effective when you don’t notice him and he was generally solid Tuesday while some of the others in the blue line battle struggled at times ... The numbers may be working against him, but Darryl Boyce won’t go down to the minors without a fight. The winning goal was all about the fourth liner as he won the draw, went directly to the net and tipped in a point shot from Franson ... Until it becomes a non-issue, teams are going to continue to fire it glove side on Reimer. Ottawa’s Jason Spezza clearly beat the Leaf keeper high to that side in the second period only to see the shot ring off the crossbar.
One of the reasons Wilson said the other day that his practice time is more important than the pre-season games, is special team work. The power play was two-for-25 before John-Michael Liles found the back of the net on a shot that hit a pair of Sens first. Still, the way he handles the puck back there, buying time and making defenders bite on the PP, should open up plenty of ice for his linemates ... Part of the mixing and matching that is pre-season saw Liles on the power-play with Cody Franson hoping to make use of the latter player’s big shot. Phaneuf also had his turn as well ... While it was an unlucky goal in a way given that Mika Zibanejad batted the puck past Reimer in mid-air, Luke Schenn had to find a way to pick up the Sens forward as he made his way to the net ... That said, like the Schenn-Liles, Aulie-Phaneuf combos as the Leafs top four, the guess from here for opening night ... Welcome to the pre-season, Phil Kessel. After cruising through the first week and more and certainly the first period Monday night, Kessel cranked it up somewhat in the second. While a handful of scoring chances didn’t connect, Kessel may have got the message that the regular-season opener is now just eight days away ... Great shot by MacArthur for the Leafs’ fifth goal but never would have happened without the great feed from Kessel to Grabovski, who then made a slick move of his own to set up MacArthur.