There are usually positives to reflect on after most any close game, even when your team loses. And there were certainly some for the Leafs on Tuesday night at the ACC against the Islanders. They outshot the visitors; maybe even out-chanced them. Gleason played his first game for the blue and white. (He'll need to adjust but he may help.) Bozak scored a goal. Lupul had some pep in his step. Kadri set up the late Leaf marker. Rielly played more than 20 minutes.
But one nagging question kept coming back to me, and it was lingering even before the puck was dropped to start the game.
Why was James Reimer plied to the Leaf bench yet again?
Let me take a step back. This is not another pro-Reimer rant, though readers can interpret it that way if they’d like. VLM regulars will know that I have been saying for ages that both of our netminders need and deserve a chance to play a run of games in a row. They both need to know that they will keep the net for a while, even if they give up a bad goal here or there or have a bad outing.
So while I would indeed have appreciated Reimer being given that opportunity at some point this season, that Bernier did receive Carlyle’s obvious support heading up to and including the Winter Classic was in fact what I had been calling for. Let these guys play, say, five games in a row and then tell the other guy, “now the net’s yours…”.
And if I’m following my own logic, I guess I should say that Bernier deserved to start Tuesday against the Isles, despite giving up five goals against the Rangers on Saturday night.
But the difference is that Bernier had already had his run of games. He did OK and absolutely played well at times but was not consistently brilliant during all those starts. He won some games, though the Leafs need shoot-outs to win most of those contests.
But he clearly ran out of gas Saturday night. That the team was looking for a spark and the coach went with Bernier against New York on Tuesday just firmed up my worst fears: the “done deal” that I’ve talked about here for months has indeed come to pass. Bernier is the favoured guy, from Leiweke and Nonis all the way down to Carlyle.
I have no idea if Reimer would have played well against the Islanders Tuesday night had he been given the start. Maybe he would have struggled, just like Bernier so painfully did. But he wasn’t even given the chance.
I know those who prefer Bernier and see him as simply a better goaltender than Reimer will say Bernier has earned his place as the starter. I have said as much (though with some caveats, as I outlined in a recent post). But if the Leafs wanted to “lose” Reimer, now the obvious back-up, they have likely been successful.
Oh, I don't for a moment think the kid from Western Canada—who has been about the most joyful Leaf I can remember—will pout, give up or any of that. Athletes like him are too proud to ever throw in the towel. It’s just that it is so obvious that the Leafs have been trying to find an excuse to make Bernier the guy all season, and now that they have managed to convince us he deserves it, well, he has laid an egg in two key games in a row against Eastern Conference rivals.
The Leafs are life and death to hold on a to a playoff spot these days (we all recognize that the only time the standings matter is at the end of the season, but you know what I mean). And I thought this game was an ideal opportunity to slide Reimer back in net and maybe give the team a boost. You have to believe he wanted the start. But it never happened.
Is it because Reimer dared to “look” at the coach after being pulled in his last game? Or is it that the guy has really played that badly? If so, could the Leaf brass tell me exactly when that lousy play started—and how long his poor performances lasted? Where is the evidence of extended poor play? He has had a few rough outings, sure, and some sterling ones as well—just like Bernier.
When people here kept saying Reimer has a bad glove hand and can’t control rebounds, I kept saying every goalie has their flaws. Bernier is composed and confident, yes, very much a technique netminder.
But no goalie is—or will be—perfect.
Myself, I like fighters, guys who battle. Yes, you need technique and skill too, but in my mind, Reimer has the skills needed to be a very good NHL goaltender. He has shown he can handle the job.
So while there are many other issues facing this baffling Leaf squad (well discussed here in the last VLM post), this particular “issue”, to me, has set the club back. It’s an uncomfortable situation that is making a difficult season even worse.
I could tell the Leafs, “I told you say”, but they wouldn't listen.
Anyway, you all likely saw the game. Discuss whatever you’d like. I’m a tad frustrated, I guess. I just don’t get the thinking around Reimer.
I’ll simply say this: he’ll be gone soon enough, and maybe then some people will appreciate what he brought to the team—a club that is badly in need of character.