The Toronto Maple Leafs have announced that James Reimer will return from injury tonight, and start his first contest since October 22nd.
This has to be considered something of a surprised.
The Leafs have not matched up well against the Boston Bruins, tonight’s opponent, this season. They have played them three times, and they have lost three times. These haven’t just been near losses either; the game on Wednesday where the Leafs lost 6-3 was the closest contest. They’ve also lost 6-2 and 7-0, though it’s worth noting that James Reimer didn’t play in any of those games. Still, it’s not the most favourable possible opponent for a player coming back from injury.
Beyond the matchup problem, there’s also the risk of injury. Boston, and Milan Lucic in particular, got attention earlier this year when the Bruins’ power forward hammered Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller. With Reimer only now returning from “concussion-like symptoms” it would be interesting to note whether the coaching staff took that into consideration.
On the other hand, the rest of the goaltenders haven’t been particularly reliable. Jonas Gustavsson may have an 8-5-0 record, but his 0.898 SV% is simply terrible, while Ben Scrivens’ 0.904 SV% is only marginally better. James Reimer’s 0.912 SV% is significantly better, and last season he provided the best goaltending the Leafs have had in years. Additionally, last season Reimer played well against the Bruins, posting a 3-1 record along with a 0.930 SV%.
This is an important game for the Maple Leafs. Toronto sits just one point back of the Bruins for first in the Northeast, and while they have a five-point cushion on ninth place, there are five teams out of the playoffs within six points of Toronto. With the Leafs cooling considerably in November, that gap shouldn’t be taken lightly.
James Reimer’s return comes just in time. It’s unfortunate that he’s being thrown into the fire against a high-quality team right away, but it makes sense. The Leafs’ backups haven’t gotten the job done, and the team’s early success has been mostly squandered. Reimer will be counted on to right the ship.