Reimer stellar, again
ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency
|Sabres forward Thomas Vanek tries to avoid Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer while being checked by forward Clarke MacArthur at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ont., Dec. 22, 2011. (MIKE CASSESE/Reuters)
TORONTO - There has been no lack of confidence in James Reimerís game since returning from injury, but when the results donít back it up, sometimes it takes a little extra mental work to keep it up.
Back-to-back games with 40 saves should help ease whatever angst the Leafsí
No. 1 goalie might have been feeling plus jump-start the faith of those in front of him.
Reimer was at his best Thursday night at the Air Canada Centre, facing 42 shots in a 3-2 Leafs win over the Buffalo Sabres. The only two that beat him were a power-play goal that bounced off of Luke Schennís skate and a big, fat giveaway that sent Derek Roy in all alone.
ďI felt good all along but pretty much what it is, when you are not getting the results you want, you have to be mentally tough to create confidence for yourself,Ē Reimer said post-game as the team scurried to catch a flight to Long Island for Fridayís game against the Islanders.
ďWhen the statistics are there and the results are there, that confidence that comes naturally. It relieves a little bit of pressure but Iíve felt good and itís just nice to be getting results.Ē
Itís so much easier for Reimer to stand tall in the net when his teammates are blocking shots and clearing lanes. Most of the night he had clear vision of enemy fire making the amount of rubber that got through not seem so daunting.
Reimerís save percentage in each of those past two games including the 40-save effort Monday against Los Angeles ó has been .952, lifting him to .906 for the season.
When Phil Kessel drove to the net and re-directed a perfect feed from linemate Joffrey Lupul to give the Leafs a brief lead in the second, it was his 20th goal in Game 34 of the season. How accelerated is it than the 2010-11 campaign? Kessel didnít hit the 20-mark until Game 57 on Feb. 15. On Thursday, he became the fourth player in the NHL to hit 20 this season ... The work of Reimer directly spurred the success of the Leafs penalty kill which was successful on five-of-six attempts. The biggest of those came with four minutes remaining after Nazem Kadri was nabbed for tripping. ďAt crunch time, thatís when we have to get a kill,Ē Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. ďRather than looking like a deer in the headlights like we do.Ē ... That was the good news on special teams. The bad: A power-play that went 0-for-5 ... For those wondering why Darryl Boyce was called up, his work on the Leafsí opening goal showed it all. Aggressive on the forecheck ó something that has been in short supply over the past few weeks ó Boyce kept the play alive deep in the Buffalo end that eventually led to David Steckelís sixth of the season ... Steckel was back in after missing two games because of bronchitis. With the glut of penalties from both teams, that didnít make for much ice time (just 7:57) but enough to get the Leafs on the scoresheet. As for the light workload, the way Steckel has been feeling lately, he was just fine with that. ďI donít have too much energy, so it was good by me,Ē Steckel said.
How tight is the Eastern Conference? The Sabres began the night a point behind the Leafs but with the loss plunged all the way to 11th ... After controlling much of the first period, the Leafs came out stale in the second, allowing the Sabres to pepper nine shots at Reimer in the first four minutes, arguably his best stretch of the season ... He went 29 consecutive starts (and going minus-5 in the past three losses), before rookie defenceman Jake Gardiner was a healthy scratch. It wasnít a night off for one of the Leafs more pleasant surprises this season, however. Gardiner watched the game in the press box seated for the first period at least beside Leafs assistant coach Greg Cronin ... If Gardiner hits a wall, itís no real surprise given that he has played 30 games already. The most he played at the University of Wisconsin was 41 ... Not always a big fan of in-game interviews during TV timeouts, but classy touch to interview two-time gold medal winner Gillian Apps in the first period. Apps paid homage to the Maple Leafs pedigree in her family ... Next up was former Leaf Darcy Tucker, who prior to a video montage of his career, talked about his soft spot for the Leafs. That spot is enhanced, no doubt, by the fact that he continues to collect a salary from the team ... When Lupul took a first-period puck off the visor, you have to wonder how anyone can play the game without one these days.
In the first period, anyway, Sabres goalie Ryan Miller was up to his old tricks against the Leafs. There were only 12 shots on net, but at least six of them were big scoring opportunities that required sharp saves ... Justin Bieber fever at the ACC? Perhaps not. A video of the young Canadian singer in the third period alongside Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf that implored the fans to cheer instead drew more boos ... Big night in the faceoff circle for Steckel (7-2, 78%) and Tim Connolly (10-2, 83%.) That will help the old penalty kill as well ... Nice, subtle goal scorerís move by Kadri on the game winner delaying the wrister just long enough to keep Miller guessing. Nifty drop pass by Clarke MacArthur to set it up, too.