Leafs loss will age any coach
STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency
|Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson speaks to the media at the MasterCard Centre in Toronto, Ont., Jan. 2, 2012. (MICHAEL PEAKE/QMI Agency)
TORONTO - His eyes were uncharacteristically red, his voice solemn and not in any way combative. There have been other nights of frustration for Ron Wilson in this National Hockey League season, just none that felt like this.
A win turned into a loss. A defeat that felt like a punch to the gut, the kind you never saw coming. A chance to make up ground on the shocking Ottawa Senators that ended the evening with the Maple Leafs nine points behind Ottawa.
“It should have been four-five to one,” Wilson said. “We did a lot of things (right) ... Sometimes it’s one mistake and that’s it.”
There are games in every regular season that mean more than others, some circumstantially, some for reasons of story, some because of rivalry or standings. This was one of those games in every way, this troubling 3-2 defeat on a night of some dominance and some failure. Wilson looked to an answer from his team, having lost two games in a row, looked for an answer from the starting goaltender, James Reimer, getting his first start in weeks. He looked for answers and as has happened too often in his four years coaching the Maple Leafs, he found none.
Reimer didn’t mind how he played in his first start since New Year’s Eve in Winnipeg. So far, it hasn’t been a happy new year for him. He didn’t mind the game he played Tuesday night, tough as it was to assess a goaltender on so few shots and scoring chances against, what he minded was the result.
What made Reimer so special in his rookie season was his uncanny sense of timing. It didn’t seem to matter how many soft goals he let in. He allowed many. But when it mattered, when the game was on the line, when it was tight in a third period, he had this way about him, making the big save at the big moment, and doing it with confidence and regularity.
Against the Senators, where he faced 10 shots in half a game and at one point Toronto was outshooting Ottawa 30-10, Reimer didn’t see much sustained action, didn’t have to make second saves or spectacular ones. But early in the third period, a shot from Kyle Turris, one that should have been stopped — it came from too far out, wasn’t screened or deflected — the Senators scored and then found a way to suck the life out of a road win, the way well-coached teams learn at this formative stage of their development to win.
“The time you want to come up big,” said Reimer, talking about the winning goal, and a night of disappointing defeat. “Maybe last year, I did that a little more. I thought I was there (on Turris’ goal). I don’t know. Maybe I was off my angle. I’ll have to look at the video and see.”
In truth, the kind of game Reimer skated into Tuesday night was the worst kind of game for a goaltending looking to find his form, his confidence and the belief of his team. He didn’t get enough shots, especially early. There was almost no sustained offence for him to “feel the puck.” There was nothing early, no sign to indicate he was back. ”I’d rather face 30-35 shots,” said Reimer, who thought at least one other Ottawa goal should have been called off but wasn’t.
Now Wilson must go back to practice on Wednesday with more talk of goaltending around him, the Leafs seemingly with two No. 2 goalies, searching for a No. 1. Maybe they can live with the two goaltenders: A lot of teams have over the years. But the challenge for Wilson will be found in determining which goalie will start on which night and for what reason.
He wanted this to be a night of clarity, where he could emerge with Reimer definitive and clearly the man to start again Thursday against Minnesota. Instead, just more uncertainty. Uncertainty and a three-game losing streak with the next game against yet another desperate team, the fallen-off-their-horse Minnesota Wild, looking to get back on for a second half ride.
This is three losses in a row, four goals scored in three games. A save percentage below .900 for the series of defeats. And wins in the Conference Tuesday by Ottawa, New Jersey, Pittsburgh don’t help the Leafs in any way.
A whole lot of reasons for concern makes a coach look older than his years on a night Ron Wilson had every reason to expect more.