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Reimer rings the bell; goalie 'competition' still on as Leafs beat the Wild….

I have to be honest—I’m not really sure precisely what my title means today (“rings the bell”).  It feels as though it’s an expression that is used, and I have this sense that’s it’s a positive thing, but whatever, it just seemed a bit fitting when it comes to Reimer and how he played against Minnesota at the ACC on Tuesday night.

I mean, it wasn’t the best goaltending performance of the NHL season, I’m sure.  Maybe not even the best by a Leaf netminder, given that Bernier has excelled in almost every game he has played in so far.  But it was a stellar ‘comeback’ game for the likeable Leaf goalie, in light of his struggles in Game 3 against Ottawa—a game that seems like it happened a month ago.

Reimer was very good at times, and yes, fortunate at times.  But isn’t that almost always the way?  When a guy plays well, he usually gets a few bounces along the way, too.

The Bernier/Reimer dynamic is one that, as I’ve said here before, may not end well in the long run, but for now, it’s working and that’s what matters for Leaf fans starved for quality goaltending—and also for signs that this is a team that can rise above the relative mediocrity in the Eastern Conference and establish themselves as a top team in the Conference.

I’m guessing this was a game that drives the anti-Randy element of Leafworld around the bend a little bit.  The Wild out shot and out-chanced the Leafs by quite a margin (as happened a fair bit last season) and yet Toronto managed to grab the two points.  This is not to suggest that longstanding concerns about puck possession and giving away two many chances for the opposition are not valid. But the Leafs (yet again) won a game they probably should not have won, as they did quite often a year ago.  Special teams (and goaltending) will cover-up a lot of flaws, eh?

Bottom line, at least for the moment? Well, there are a number of factors.  The Leafs score enough to win.  Whoever is called up (what with the injuries and absences) to play on the third or fourth lines seem to do their job.  Guys like Bolland and McClement do the little, often hardly noticed things that make a difference between winning and losing. (Kadri coming back to sweep a rebound from Reimer’s crease - and out of harm’s way - midway through the third period helped, too.)  Mason Raymond has been a factor most of this season, and not everyone in Vancouver likely  figured on that. Heck, Kessel hasn’t even really heated up yet. (And that was a nice ‘team’ thing, Kessel not redirecting Raymond’s last-minute empty-netter, so the ex-Canuck could get credit for the goal…)

Yes, it’s a nice little recipe right now.

As for the goaltending, rather than thinking back to the era of Bester and Wreget in the ‘80s (which I tend to do), when the Leafs had two talented young goalies but neither ever quite was fully comfortable with the back and forth arrangement, maybe, in the short term, this can be more like Johnny Bower and Terry Sawchuk in the ‘60s.  That was a very different time, of course, and they were two very different goaltenders (from each other, and from what the Maple Leafs have now), but the two future Hall-of-Famers set their egos aside and shared the net after both being the top guy with their respective clubs for years—Bower (right) with the Leafs and Sawchuk with the Red Wings (for the most part- he spent some time in Boston, too).  In fact, I believe it was in Sawchuk’s first season with Toronto (1964-‘65) that he won the Vezina Trophy, given in those days to the individual goalie who played the most games for the team that allowed the fewest goals over the course of the regular season.  (It’s the Jennings Trophy these days, right?)

In any event, Sawchuk played 36 games that season (out of 70). Bower played 34.  The league was going to give the trophy only to Sawchuk, but he insisted that Bower’s name go on the trophy as well, or he wouldn't accept it.  Two years later, in a swan song of sorts for both (though they did each play on into the early years of expansion; Bower with the Leafs, of course, and Sawchuk with the Kings and Rangers and maybe even the Wings again, as I recall), they were integral in helping win a Cup for our guys in the spring of 1967.

I’m not predicting that just yet, of course, but these two (much younger) goalies are giving us some early season thrills, at least.


14 comments:

  1. I was thinking about goalie tandems today and I came up with a bit of a hypothesis: After a long Cup drought it can take a tandem of two number one goalies to end the drought?

    A few recent examples:

    2011 Bruins Thomas & Rask
    1997 Red Wings Vernon & Osgoode
    1994 Rangers Richter & Healy
    1984 Oilers Fuhr & Moog
    1980 Islanders Smith & Resch

    Maybe we should start to embrace the duo of Bernier and Reimer for a few years

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    1. It would be nice to think it could work, DP. If it was possible, that would be ideal. But even in those excellent examples you cite, there was generally a clear number-one. Fuhr became the man in Edmonton. Healy was a bit player, never a legit number-one guy or a challenge to Richter. Rask was a kid when Thomas was the old mentor; Smith knocked Resch out of the real top job; Vernon was the man come playoff time.

      Fans can dream! Thanks DP.

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    2. Maybe I should have used different words. Rather than "tandem of two number one goalies" I think I should have said "two legimate starting goaltenders"...guys that would start on many teams, steal games and win multiple playoff series

      Vernon was the man in the playoffs, but Osgood did win the Cup next year when Vernon was gone.

      In Edmonton, Moog was given the starting job in the playoffs, and helped lead the Oilers to their first Stanley Cup Finals, which they lost. But he is 14th on the alltime win list, plus there's the playoff success with Boston. While Fuhr was the number one guy in Edmonton, it's hard to argue that Moog wasn't a legitmate starting gioaltender.

      Even Healy (who I detest as a comentator) played 29 games in the Ranger's Cup year.

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    3. I absolutely see your point, DP. It's just unfortunate that, unlike say, the center position, goalies are either in the game or out completely. We have two capable guys. I guess it's like an insurance policy!

      I agree, by the way, Moog was a fine netiminder, very important to the Oilers, for sure. And even our man Healy had some outstanding moments, though mostly with the Islanders, I seem to recall. Osgood certainly had a very solid career. Thanks DP.

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  2. I think if the Leafs had avoided the penalties, James would have had his first shutout. I thought it would be hard for him starting again on home ice. I'm thrilled to be wrong. I see no reason not to play both goalies. It keeps them sharp. C.N.

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    1. For now, the coast is clear, C.N.- thanks for posting!

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  3. Thank you Michael for writing something positive. If you watch Carlyle's post-game conference you'll be surprised that the Leafs are at the top of the league and have just won a game. The media is asking for excuses for 'bad play' and Carlyle is playing along, talking about his team as if they should all be benched or otherwise punished for failing miserably. (I cannot help but imagine the Coach laughing to himself and thinking - thanks for helping me make these guys even better - I'm running out of ammunition here... ) The media and the stats people are still blind to how good this team is, the team is all on its toes going on about how they need to get better. Meanwhile, they are 6 and one. Only in Toronto! Anyway, thanks again for giving us a proper write-up to go along with the win. It was a pleasure to read. Also, I'm glad you're coming around to the idea of running with two great goalies - of course there will be an end to it and it may well not be pretty, but let's enjoy it while it lasts. And thanks for the story of Sawchuk and Bower - it gives us something to dream about.


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    1. Thank you, leafdreamer. As people who have visited VLM over the years know, I try to be balanced in my presentation here- not unduly negative, or giddily positive.

      The long-term goalie "situation" concerns me, yes, but sometimes you have to take "yes" for an answer. For now, this may be one of those occasions.

      And I appreciate your point about Carlyle. He knows the team is not playing exactly as he wants at all times, and that they have been fortunate. But he is working them hard. He sees what's going on. But they are winning nonetheless. He won't take his foot off the pedal. Good coaches know the best time to push your team is when they are doing well. You don't beat on them when they're down.

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  4. It looked like Reimer was fighting the puck in the first period, but settled down and played pretty well. He still has a tendency to drop pucks in front of him, though he has improved in rebound control. And his puck handling outside the crease is always an adventure. I think we'll need two goalies who can both win throughout the year, and we've got them! Wouldn't be surprised to see James start on Thursday.
    Of greater concern is the team's penchant for dropping blind back passes in their own zone - it almost bit them a few times last night. In fact, it seemed like we were playing the entire game as if we were on the PK. Throwing the puck to no one, unnecessary icings, panic clearings that didn't clear... and 7 shots through two periods. I dread the Chicago game if this is how we're going to approach them.

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    1. Agreed, Gerund O'. Whether the things you cite are entrenched bad habits or the result of winning more games than they deserve at this point (thus the lack of attention to detail at times) I don't know. But Chicago tends to make teams pay for careless play, so we'll see!

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  5. I agree about the passes. Veteran players are so smooth and unhurried it's wonderful to watch, but this is a very inexperienced team. I'd like to see some shorter passes through the neutral zone but have noticed that forwards are often waiting at the opposing blue-line by the time the puck comes out of our zone. This results in many odd man scoring chances but I think it puts a lot of pressure on a young defenceman to make that long pass.
    The Leafs seem to be playing a more run-and-gun style instead of the tighter checking, hitting, grittier game we saw last year. It's fun to watch, fast, exciting, and they have the fire-power to put in a lot of goals but it won't work for long. This is the type of game they played under Wilson and I can well understand Carlyle's frustration. Old habits die hard. (They are obviously having some fun out there!) It will be very difficult for Randy to change this while they are winning. I hope with the return of Kulemin, Fraser, and with Clarkson finally in the line-up we'll see more of the grit that made the Leafs so successful last year.

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    1. As I was reading your post, Anon, I harkened back to the Wilson days, then you dropped the former coach's name yourself! Not that Wilson preached only offense (that's not a fair rap against him; he believed in strong team defense as well) but those Leafs did not have the talent (or will?) to play the grinding game that someone like Carlyle clearly prefers.

      They are young, and there is certainly room to go. Thanks Anon.

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  6. I have always had a soft spot for goalies (my first hockey idol was Chuck Rayner) so it was with particular interest that I read your thoughts on Reimer and Bernier and Bower and Sawchuck.

    The first successful goalie tandem, Leaf variety, that I can remember was the Mutt and Jeff combo of Turk Broda (31 games) and Al Rollins (40 games) in 1950-51 (the Bill Barilko Stanley Cup year). Rollins was the rookie. Broda was the 37 year old veteran performing his swan song (he played his last 2 NHL games the next season). Rollins played one more season with the Leafs but he never captured the hearts of management or the fans and was traded to Chicago for Harry Lumley.

    The next Leaf Stanley Cup team to use multiple starting goalies was in 1966-67 when the actually used 5; Terry Sawchuck (28 games), Johhnny Bower (27 games), Bruce Gamble (23 games), Gary Smith (2 games) and Al Smith (1 game). I guess the true starter emerged in the playoffs as young 37 year old Sawchuck started 10 games and oldster, 42 year old Bower started 4 games.

    I think the Reimer - Bernier tandem will play out very well, at least this year. With this being an Olympic year the schedule is somewhat compressed with more back-to-backs than usual. There should be plenty of work to keep both happy. Friction could very well occur during the playoffs when one of them will be picked to start the majority, if not all, of the games. In the meantime it is sure a pleasure to have two solid starting goalies, each capable of stealing a win.

    I am not too concerned at the time of possession or shot discrepancies at the present as the Leafs are a very young team and will only get better. Also none of their four lines were intact. The power forward on each line was out due to injury and I would expect a lack of cohesiveness. What is encouraging is that they are creating quality chances and then making the most of them.

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  7. You raise some of the truly memorable names in Leaf goaltending history today, Pete Cam. Broda and Rollins were just before my time but my Dad spoke of them often. I've written here about Bruce Gamble on occasion, a colourful netminder for sure who played through a lot of injuries - and stitches - here.

    I agree that this is a young squad and some of the early tendencies should indeed be 'corrected' over time. Thanks Pete.

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