James Reimer peeked through the fog of trade rumours and losses and told everyone that “ignorance is bliss,” after a 2-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks.
It was up to the media to decide what was and wasn’t significant. But he admitted he knew that the Winnipeg Jets were winning and that the Toronto Maple Leafs would probably wake up Friday morning out of the playoffs.
“Saw it on the ticker, it was 2-0,” he said. The Jets had been, what, five or six points out at one time? Why can’t the Leafs string together some games? “Do that, we could be fifth or sixth,” he said, shrugging.
Thursday night’s game was the biggest start of Reimer’s still tender and tenuous career and quite possibly backup Jonas Gustavsson’s, too, if only for the psychological cease-fire a halfway decent effort would provide. General manager Brian Burke has suggested the Leafs’ goaltending ranks will look different come Monday’s trade deadline and while he won’t say it, even if his answer is something old and free-agent eligible and short-term there is really no way the Leafs can start next season with either of them as No. 1.
Big, first-line forward, shut-down defenceman, big first-line forward, shut-down defenceman. Those two commodities were atop the Leafs’ wish list all season long, with goaltending a kind of nagging second, often couched in a combination of faith in Reimer’s youth – oh, for the days of Optimus Reims – and a sense that the Leafs wide-open style of play was somehow mostly to blame and that somehow there would a gradual tightening up as the games started to take on more meaning.
It says a great deal about this team’s psyche that what could best be described as a static performance by a goalie will be held out as a positive. Truly, this was a game between two terrified teams, who played a first period of few whistles and even less creativity.
The Sharks took a 2-0 lead in the second period on a pair of goals by Patrick Marleau, only the first of which was even remotely due to an egregious play by Reimer – beaten high, yet again.
But what really stood out about the first 40 minutes was the complete lack of engagement by the Toronto forwards. Time and again, a Leafs defenceman found himself in his own end trying desperately to find somebody to pass the puck to, with not even the hint of a short pass available.
The Sharks had lost five of their first six games on a nine-game trip and have fallen into what amounts to a slumber in the Western Conference standing. The goalless first period was the first time in eight periods they didn’t give up a goal. They are a brittle group – witness Joe Thornton’s desperation icing play at 10:23 of the third period with the Sharks holding on to their lead, a decision that led to a timeout being called by Sharks head coach Todd McLellan.
The Leafs you know about. A 4-3 overtime loss to the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday shook the organization to its core. The three-year work in progress that has been Gustavsson is effectively finished, left in tatters after three soft goals including a game-winner that he hot-potatoed into the net. Barring a miracle, The Monster is done in Toronto – gone in the off-season. Goaltender coach Francois Allaire, who looks like something less than a guru these days, acquiesced to media demands and granted a 10-minute session on Wednesday, preaching patience while his GM took to the airwaves and mused about a short-term answer in goal, perhaps an Evgeni Nabokov or Tomas Vokoun or somebody of that ilk.
The bright side for the Leafs is that their next opponent will be the Washington Capitals, the biggest bunch of underachieving, coach-killers in the NHL who will be at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday. Hockey Night In Canada hasn’t had a potential wreck like this on its hands since Don Cherry started the season with his infamous “pukes” rant on Coach’s Corner. What a playoff race.