Nothing gets to Randy Carlyle quite like a question about his goalies.
Ask endlessly about Leo Komarov's fore-checking, or the new defensive-zone scheme – or, heck, even analytics (!) – and the Toronto Maple Leafs coach is happy to oblige.
Well, maybe not happy, but he obliges.
Anything to do with goalies – positive, negative, who's starting or who's not – and there's an eye roll or sigh.
It's his version of the no-fly zone, most of the time, which is perhaps why his postgame comment last year in the midst of his team's slide that backup James Reimer had been "just okay" blew up the way it did.
Don't expect a similar occurrence this year.
"You guys are just relentless," Carlyle grumbled when asked politely about a competition between his two netminders being beneficial, with his team preparing for a back-to-back against Detroit on Friday and Saturday where both goalies are expected to play. "Do you guys have any other questions to ask? Go to your A or B book [of material]."
What Carlyle wants to do is avoid a controversy. Take the focus off his goalies and onto someone – anyone – else, and that's fair enough.
The funny thing, though, is that some kind of a debate over who should play may well be a good thing.
Last year, the battle for the crease between Reimer and newcomer Jonathan Bernier fizzled out early. Bernier was outstanding from the start of the season and didn't really falter until an injury derailed his season late.
In contrast, Reimer had a tough time picking up starts from about the midpoint on. When he did play, he was, well, just okay, ultimately posting a .911 save percentage that put him below the league average and below the .915 he had in his first three NHL seasons.
His history tells us Reimer can be better. And through two starts this year, he has been.
It's not a whole lot of action to look at, but Reimer has both of the Leafs wins so far, beating the New York Rangers on Sunday and the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday. His .920 save percentage is better than fine, and he's looked calm and capable in the net.
Bernier, meanwhile, has struggled a little, allowing at least a couple of questionable goals after looking airtight in the preseason.
He's expected to get the go-ahead for Friday's home game, with Reimer stepping in at Joe Louis Arena on Saturday, and if the trend holds and Reimer outplays Bernier, it'll set up more of a battle between the two than there was most of last year.
Why that's a good thing comes down to three things.
No. 1, the Leafs are going to need both goalies playing well to make a run at a playoff spot. Last year, both faltered late, and Toronto finished ninth in the NHL in save percentage (.914) and even-strength save percentage (.928). It was solid, but it's also possible they can climb higher than that, and every little bit will help.
More important, Bernier is in a contract year. If he easily ascends to the No. 1 role again and posts similar numbers to last season, the Leafs are going to have to pay up in the form of a lucrative, long-term deal. Bernier makes only $2.9-million (U.S.) against the cap this year, but could command at least another $3-million with the cap expected to rise into the $73-million range.
Finally, Reimer playing well also raises his trade value, which is what both he and the Leafs ultimately want.
"Any time you can have a couple guys at a position pushing each other, it's obviously best for the team," Reimer said, diplomatically.
"The issue with goaltending – and I don't know if there's an issue – it's one that we have two guys that are vying for the position and you can only play one," Carlyle explained. "Both of them have provided quality goaltending for our hockey club, and I think it's a nice luxury to have."
It is – and even hinting that it's a "controversy" is obviously blowing things way out of proportion.
Carlyle noted as much as he left his scrum on Thursday, shaking his head over what he has to deal with from the media.
The goalies, the goalies – it's always the goalies.