It’s been a wild week for James Reimer. First, he called out his team after their performance against Florida, re-iterating that there is no room for excuses. The money line was right at the end of his rant: “All you can focus on is what you yourself can do to get prepared and then be your best, and trust that your teammate across from you is doing the same thing”
Reimer came out and had a great game a couple of days later against Phoenix. His start was an odd one, since typically coach Randy Carlyle has switched goalies after losses. It came out after the game that Jonathan Bernier had been nursing an injury, and Carlyle had let the injury dictate his choice on the goaltender ahead of one of Reimer’s better starts of the season.
That’s not a reason for #TeamReimer to complain, but you could argue that Carlyle prematurely pulled Reimer against Detroit after a brutal first period from the Maple Leafs that saw the team down 3-1 after the first. Glenn Healy was talking up the look that Reimer and Carlyle shared at the start of the second period, pictured above. Is this… a controversy?
Now, there’s this:
James Reimer said he didn’t want to comment on whether #leafs coach Randy Carlyle is keeping him on too short of leash.
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) December 22, 2013
“You want that chance to get in there and fight and battle for your teammates and try and get a win. Obviously Randy had other thoughts and he’s the coach and he’s the one who makes those decisions. I don’t. I just try and stop pucks.”
No comment, but then a comment!
Let’s look at his pulls. James Reimer has been pulled five times so far this season:
- October 5 vs. Ottawa
- October 17 vs. Carolina
- November 25 vs. Columbus
- December 12 @ St. Louis
- December 21 vs. Detroit
The game against Carolina hardly counts, since Reimer took a hit to the head on the first shot of the game and was held out for precautionary reasons. Let’s focus on the four performance-based pulls of the season.
- Against Ottawa, Reimer allowed 4 goals on 21 shots by the 10:56 mark of the second period, including two 15 seconds apart. It was 4-2 Ottawa at that point and the Leafs came back to win 5-4 in a shootout.
- Against Columbus, Reimer was pulled after allowing 6 goals on 21 shots, the sixth coming at the 11:24 mark of the third. It was 6-0 for Columbus at that point, with no chance at a comeback.
- Against St. Louis, the Leafs completely went invisible in the first and despite some great saves, Reimer allowed three goals by the 16:10 mark of the first. He was immediately pulled after stopping 12-of-15. The Leafs did not win that game either.
- And finally Detroit, pulled during the intermission after allowing 3 goals on 9 shots.
The thing that really gets stuck in the craw of #TeamReimer is that Jonathan Bernier has yet to be pulled this year. James Mirtle said several times going into the season that Bernier would likely have the bigger leash, and that seems to be the case on the surface. Bernier has had 20 starts to Reimer’s 18 and has yet to be pulled despite his own bad outings.
Bernier has allowed four goals or more on six occasions so far this year, but I’d figure the main difference between his bad starts and Reimer’s is that Bernier doesn’t happen to group his bad goals in succession. I don’t want that to stand on a comment of Reimer’s overall performance, because I think a lot of goaltending is determined by variance. If a goalie has allowed three goals in the first period, is he really less likely to have a .920 save percentage the rest of the way than a goalie that has allowed 0 or 1 goals? That sort of research I haven’t seen, so all I can really comment on is the consistency of how Randy handles his goalie pulls.
Two games to me stand out: October 12 against Edmonton and November 30 against Montreal. The Edmonton game had the Leafs down 3-2 early in the second, and Bernier had made just three stops on the Oilers first seven shots. This was the third goal:
It seems to me that if there’s a place to pull a goalie, it’s one that looked remarkably out of position, who had stopped just 4 of 7 shots on a night where the offence was doing some good work. Of course, Bernier wasn’t pulled, and he wound up stopping 22 of the next 24 and earned the win in overtime.
Against Montreal, the 3-0 and 4-0 goals came with 4:55 and 2:38 remaining in the second. Perhaps, in the short-leash theory, Reimer gets pulled after the second one of those, but perhaps not. Either way, Carlyle refusing to make the goaltending change did seem to spark the Leafs, since they got two goals in the next 80 seconds to make the deficit 4-2*.
The rest of the times though, you’re looking at teams pouring on goals late. Bernier hasn’t played in many blowouts this year. Reimer had the one mercy pull against Columbus, but all of Bernier’s blow outs, the game has been too close to the finish by the time the final nail of the coffin was hammered in. Against Boston on December 8th, the 4-2 goal went in with 4 minutes left in the third. Against Pittsburgh, the Leafs were still in the game and he’d been playing great. Ditto against Nashville.
I think some circumstances have unfortunately resulted that make it seem one goalie is getting preferential treatment, but honestly, we don’t have enough information to conclusively determine whether Carlyle thinks Reimer stinks. I think he’s been fair in divvying the playing time this season. He’s given each goalie a split on the back-to-back, each goalie has had their share of consecutive starts and so far it’s 20-18, after being 20-15 earlier in the week as a way of split starts.
There are a lot of things to complain about RE: Randy, but he’s quite good at identifying the goaltender worth going with. He’s played with some excellent goaltenders below him and has never let any one of them get too carried away with a string of starts.
Now, there may be a communication issue between him and Reimer. Randy’s biggest fault, it seems, is that he can’t talk with the young players in the room. He took a lot of credit as the Nazem Kadri Whisperer last season (or was given a lot of credit for it, in any case) but Jake Gardiner had a tough time adjusting to Carlyle’s expectations last season, and Morgan Rielly has spent probably too much time in the pressbox considering his talent level.
Reimer’s post-game comments after the Detroit game can probably be chalked up to some emotion. I don’t think that there’s evidence that Carlyle dislikes Reimer, but I think that there is some indication that the two are on a different page. I think it’s naive to assume that James hasn’t noticed he’s been the only goalie pulled so far this season, and let’s face it: it’s not exactly been a pleasant couple of months for the Maple Leafs.
In any event, the media may start talking up the discrepancy in relief appearances a little more as we head towards a mini-break in the season, but I think it’s mostly just luck of the draw.
* – This is obviously a joke in a way to comment that Carlyle pulling Reimer against Detroit wasn’t what sparked the group.