They’re similar in age, experience and temperament.
And, so far anyway, in their numbers.
James Reimer has a .917 save percentage in 14 starts. Ben Scrivens has a .915 in 15.
That puts the Toronto Maple Leafs solidly in the upper half of the league in goaltending, surprisingly ahead of teams like Montreal, Nashville, Vancouver and Pittsburgh in one of the more volatile statistics in hockey: team save percentage.
What remains uncertain is just how good either goalie will eventually be.
Are these two No. 1s? Two No. 2s? Or something in between?
Reimer has played only 87 career games to this point and settled in at a .912 save percentage that is close to the average for an NHL starter. Scrivens is a bit lower at .909 in the tiny sample size of 29 games.
With Toronto’s goaltending sagging along with the rest of the team during its recent five-game losing streak, coach Randy Carlyle admitted on Tuesday that they’re still waiting for their No. 1 candidate to “emerge” down the stretch.
“I think what we’d like is for somebody to show us that they’re going to grab the net,” Carlyle said as his team prepared for back-to-back games against the Tampa Bay Lightning and Buffalo Sabres, games in which both netminders are likely to play. “We at one point thought of alternating them and just giving the start to one tomorrow and the next day it’s the other guy until they proved themselves. Those are all the things that you run through the back of your mind.
“We could make that decision and go with it. If not, you wait until someone emerges as the guy. Before Reimer was hurt, we thought we were pretty close to that.”
As it was a year ago, Reimer’s injury appears to have been a bit of a speed bump to his season. He missed a little more than two weeks with a knee strain suffered in a game against the Flyers in mid-February and has posted only an .898 save percentage in six appearances since.
Reimer had an impressive .929 save percentage through his first 10 games prior to that, something that was a huge reason for the Leafs starting the year 8-5-0.
It appears Carlyle is leaning toward Reimer as his No. 1 given his strong start and experience in that role in the past, but that’s not a lock by any means. With the pair likely to split games during the week, it’s believed whoever played better will earn the difficult start against the Boston Bruins on Saturday.
Win there and you might “grab the net” for a little while.
A continued fall off from their young goaltenders the rest of the way, meanwhile, could obviously put Toronto’s playoff hopes in jeopardy.
“Obviously some of the results haven’t been there since I’ve come back,” Reimer said. “I think I’m over .500, but it’s what have you done for me lately. The last couple games haven’t gone the way I wanted it.
“I feel like I’m battling hard… Sometimes things don’t go your way. For a while, everything was going right and now some things aren’t going my way and that’s just the way it is. I’m happy with the way I’m working.”
The interesting question for the organization is, if what Reimer and Scrivens have done to date reflects their overall talent level, is that good enough goaltending going forward?
In other words, if this pair can put Toronto in the 10th to 15th range league-wide in team save percentage, with the Leafs other deficiencies factored in, is that enough to get them where they want?
This is a team that is the eighth highest scoring in the league at the moment (thanks in part to a high shooting percentage), which can obviously cover up some issues in goal, but that also allows a ton of shots against (32 per game, sixth worst in the NHL) and scoring chances.
Given the first 29 games, it appears the Leafs greatest need is actually an upgrade on the blueline in order to correct their puck possession issues and bump others down the lineup. After that, a debate can be had about how badly they need to improve at centre and whether it surpasses their needs in goal, but statistically speaking, it appears adding a veteran netminder may be third on the unofficial offseason priority list.
Then again, when we’re talking about the most important position in the game, perhaps simply being average (or slightly above) isn’t enough.
There’s a key question for GM Dave Nonis to ponder as the folks out in Vancouver continue to talk about shuttling out a high end goalie to address some of their other pressing needs.