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Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer walks around the outside of the practice rink at the end of a training session as the Leafs prepare for the new NHL season on in Toronto Monday January 14, 2013. (Chris Young/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer walks around the outside of the practice rink at the end of a training session as the Leafs prepare for the new NHL season on in Toronto Monday January 14, 2013. (Chris Young/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Crease quandary in Toronto as Reimer and Scrivens try to prove they belong Add to ...

They are so similar in many respects.

Two affable prairie boys, one from Alberta, the other from rural Manitoba, and both late-blooming goaltenders trying to stun the hockey world by succeeding where few have of late.

The Toronto Maple Leafs crease.

How James Reimer, 24, and Ben Scrivens, 26, got here was certainly different, but they’ve both proven, at least to the organization’s liking, that they deserve to be thrust into this odd spot, opening the NHL season as the league’s least experienced No. 1 and No. 2 duo.

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Only no one’s quite sure which is which.

Or if they’re both No. 2s … or worse.

“It is an interesting time,” Reimer said. “The beauty of it is you just don’t focus on it.”

While their minor-league credentials are strong – especially so in Scrivens’s case – the general perception of the Leafs’ situation in net is now one of skepticism.

There’s skepticism when new general manager Dave Nonis says he’s prepared to roll with the two green goalies – especially with all the trade talk regarding the Vancouver Canucks and Roberto Luongo – and there’s skepticism over how they’ll do.

Because no one knows for sure.

The reality of NHL goaltending is that it is so wholly unpredictable, with names like Jonathan Quick and Braden Holtby and so many more emerging as starters on contending teams when they were virtual unknowns four or five years ago.

That’s why netminders are rarely taken in the first round of the draft: Until they start stopping NHL pucks, teams are never sure what they’re looking at, and even then, it can take up to eight or nine years to get a definitive answer.

(Consider Josh Harding, who has been the “goalie of the future” in Minnesota for more than a decade.)

On Wednesday, with the season opener in Montreal just three days off, it was Reimer and Scrivens in the spotlight in Toronto, squaring off in a training-camp scrimmage where every minor miscue was under the microscope.

Reimer, who has started just 16 games in the last calendar year due to a head injury and the lockout, looked understandably rusty.

Scrivens, meanwhile, was one of the stars of the show, calmly turning away pucks as his team handily won behind the strength of three goals from Nazem Kadri.

“This is pretty nice,” Scrivens said. “If only I could play a half season before going into training camp every year.”

“It’ll be a challenge,” Reimer said of battling his friend for the top job. “Scrivy’s a heckuva goaltender, like I’ve said for a long time.”

Every indication is that how Reimer and Scrivens start this abbreviated season will be vital, with one or the other needing to take the reins and quickly quiet concerns the Leafs will once again struggle in goal.

If not, Nonis will be forced to make a move.

It won’t be easy for the pair to win over the critics. Toronto’s netminders have allowed more goals the past five seasons than any other franchise, with those 1,309 red lights working out to an average .894 save percentage that is dead last.

Expectations, in other words, are low.

That said, Reimer and Scrivens, who have started just 80 of the 410 games in question, are hardly to blame for the trend. Both of their career numbers are better than the team’s averages, not that that’s any remarkable accomplishment.

But they’re still battling that history – a poor first four or five games will likely be enough to raise questions over why on earth the Leafs are, yet again, short in goal.

And that, for now, puts the goalies and their GM in the select group which believes they can get the job done.

At least one of them, anyway.

“I think we’re pretty close in talent,” Reimer said. “It’s sometimes just what happens on certain days. Who gets hot at the right time and who doesn’t. You work hard and just try and make the decisions hard for the coaches.”

Toronto’s crease woes

On average, the Leafs have had the worst goaltending statistics of any NHL franchise the last five seasons

 
 

TEAM

GA/G

SVPCT

30th

Toronto

3.19

0.894

29th

Tampa Bay

3.17

0.895

28th

NY Islanders

3.13

0.901

27th

Columbus

2.90

0.901

26th

Colorado

2.93

0.902

25th

Winnipeg*

3.17

0.902

24th

Ottawa

2.90

0.903

23rd

Edmonton

3.08

0.904

22nd

Chicago

2.67

0.904

21st

Dallas

2.79

0.905

*– formerly Atlanta

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