James Reimer is making the most of a second chance to prove he is the Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender of the present and future – because of his coach’s obsession with not giving anyone a second chance.
Ben Scrivens is also getting his first chance to show he can be a big part of that goaltending picture because of that Randy-Carlyle-no-second-chance thing. And all of us media wisenheimers who whinged all summer that first Brian Burke and then David Nonis should make that Roberto Luongo trade already can go soak our heads. (But both Reimer and Scrivens are too polite to say so.)
Second chances, when it comes to the Maple Leafs head coach, means building a defensive system that seeks to eliminate them for opposing players.
First, keep them away from the front and sides of the net where they can get their sticks on rebounds and loose pucks. Second, make sure you block as many shots as you can so there are no rebounds and when the inevitable few pop loose, clear them as quickly as possible. Other than that, let the opposition feel free to blast away from the perimeter, where Reimer and Scrivens will get all the time they need to see the shot and stop it.
Since he replaced Ron Wilson as head coach 368 days ago, Carlyle has been pounding that message into his defencemen. It was not one easily absorbed by a group accustomed to Wilson’s laissez-faire approach to team defence.
But Carlyle is not one to give up easily. He won a Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007 with the same approach and was going to do it in Toronto as well, even if a lot of people wondered if the Maple Leafs had the right kind of players to do it.
It would be better to trade for an established goaltender like Luongo, the media sages (including yours truly) advised, let him make the big saves and give those young defencemen some confidence. In the meantime, either Reimer or Scrivens could learn his trade as the backup.
Last summer, Carlyle sat down with his counterpart with the Toronto Marlies farm team, Dallas Eakins, and made sure they were teaching the same style. He believes in rewarding the players who play best, not the ones who negotiate the best contracts, and “we felt it was important to have that seamless transition to the NHL from the AHL” for the farmhands who earned jobs with the big club.
Three of them did wind up with the Leafs – Mark Fraser, Mike Kostka and Korbinian Holzer (who signed a two-year contract extension Tuesday) – and all have a hand in the resurgence of the Leafs goaltending.
Last season, in which Reimer’s promise from the season before was undone by a concussion and a neck injury, the Leafs finished 29th out of the NHL’s 30 teams in save percentage at .898. Now, with Scrivens providing able support to Reimer, who is back after missing 18 days with a knee injury, the tandem goes into Wednesday’s game against the Ottawa Senators tied for fourth at .921.
“Any time you see a good goalie, you see a good team playing in front of him,” Scrivens said.
Both Reimer and Scrivens say they never let the fascination of the fans and media with a potential Luongo trade bother them.
“It doesn’t really matter what’s said by the fans or the media, even my parents,” Scrivens said. “I still know what I can do on the ice.”
(He did hasten to add his parents were not among those calling the radio shows demanding the Leafs get Luongo.)
However, Carlyle hinted he might not have balked at a Luongo trade if Burke and Nonis had decided the Vancouver Canucks were asking too much.
“Did we want a higher-level goalie? Well, I want the best players,” the coach said. “If it so happens you can get the best goalie in the league, I’ll take the best goalie in the league, you’re darn right.”
That being said, though, Carlyle is happy with Reimer and Scrivens as long as they mesh well with the defence. And that lesson will continue, Carlyle noted, bringing up the Leafs’ 3-2 loss the last time they played the Senators on Feb. 23.
“We know what they did to us the last time, scored a goal with 24 seconds left to win the hockey game,” Carlyle said. “All three of their goals were basically off some form of faceoff or drive to the net and second chance.
“We have to play to a higher level when we play the hockey club from Ottawa.”