There are times when James Reimer’s small-town sensibilities provide the perfect path through all the guff. When rather than nuggets of profound wisdom or Shakespeare, it is the simple, unfettered observations that ring truest.
Heading into Tuesday’s 2-1 overtime win against the Carolina Hurricanes, Reimer spun a couple of lines that seemed particularly fitting. Feeling good about your play is nice, but pointless if the team isn’t winning – true, that – and it’s important to beat teams below you in the standings because chances are other teams will get points off that team, too.
Forget the NHL’s all-star fan balloting that has Reimer atop a tight, three-way goaltending race. It is a fact that for many in this city, Reimer won’t re-establish himself as a No. 1 goaltender until he steals a game for the Maple Leafs. But do not underestimate what he did on Tuesday: maintaining focus in a difficult game against a bad team, when the chances came in flurries if not frequently. He lost a shutout win with 1 minute 54 seconds remaining in regulation at the end of a penalty-kill, when rookie Jake Gardiner failed to keep tabs on Alexei Ponikarovsky in front of the net.
There was no goaltender controversy or “issue” in Toronto heading into the game, unless you’re talking about head coach Ron Wilson’s daily bob-and-weave routine with the media. No, what Wilson faced was best described as a goaltending, um, situation.
Reimer hadn’t won in three games since returning from his concussion. (Really, can we just stow all the talk of “concussion-like symptoms”? It’s a concussion, period.) In that time, Jonas Gustavsson backstopped the club to a 4-2 win over the New York Rangers. The amount of money, time and energy spent on Gustavsson by the Leafs seems forgotten, but his 9-5-0 record started to look Boweresque to the Leafs’ fan base as that brief stay in first period morphed into a sixth-place spot and Reimer searched for a win.
Tuesday night, Reimer looked especially comfortable in the second period when after facing just two shots through the first seven minutes, he and his teammates were forced to kill off an interference penalty called on Dion Phaneuf, a call well sold by Brandon Sutter after Phaneuf slowed down and changed his angle on a play that developed along the boards.
The Hurricanes managed just a pair of shots off a sloppy power play, but Reimer was in position on both occasions. There was no skittishness in his game even as Eric Staal set up shop in front of him, Reimer bending down and peeking around Staal to get a clearer view. The Hurricanes had their best flurry of the first 40 minutes in the final minute of the second, taking advantage of a Tyler Bozak turnover and wholesale confusion in the Leafs’ end, but Reimer did just enough to stop Chad Larose from poking the puck in on the short side, and stopped Jaroslav Spacek’s point shot with his right shoulder.
This could not have been an easy game for Reimer. Nothing, then something and something else, followed by five more minutes of nothing. The Hurricanes do have six short-handed goals this season and in the third Larose peeled away on a 2-on-1 break with the Leafs on the power play and Reimer was again equal to the shot.
Then there was a near own-goal when the puck rolled off the stick of defenceman Carl Gunnarsson across the crease. Appropriately, Reimer was the third star of Tuesday’s game, neither the hero nor the goat. Just the winning goalie, willing to take the points and for the first time in a long time feeling good about feeling good.