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Siegel: Reimer stays perfect in Ottawa with another busy win

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Jonas Siegel
12/8/2013 1:03:43 AM
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OTTAWA – Carl Gunnarsson had a simple explanation for the sky-high shot totals peppered at Leaf goaltenders on a nightly basis and once more in the nation's capital on Saturday evening.

"You know what? I think it's a conspiracy," Gunnarsson told the Leaf Report with a large, sarcastic grin in the bowels of the Canadian Tire Centre. "I think the guys counting the shots, they're doubling up on it."

Two nights after Jonathan Bernier stopped 48 of 50 shots in an overtime win against the Stars did James Reimer stop 47 of 50 in a shootout victory against the Senators, one that also snapped the Leafs seven-game road losing streak.

The primary force in the team's success so far this season (16-11-3,) goaltending, after a slight dip under increasing strain in late November, have re-emerged as the backbone of victory in the early days of December.

"When we get those wins on a night like this it's their win," Gunnarsson said of the goaltenders, Reimer on this particular night. "We need them right now and they're really showing [up.]"

While they raced out to a 3-1 lead on goals from James van Riemsdyk, Phil Kessel and Jake Gardiner, the Leafs nearly fumbled victory away again on this night. Another late letdown, highlighted by continued discipline issues, saw the Senators push back with a pair of goals from Erik Condra and Erik Karlsson, the latter coming on a power-play midway through the third.

"When we skate and we attack we can be a hockey club that can have success," said Randy Carlyle, pleased with the effort through two periods, but not so much in the third. "And when we sit back and receive the game, we allow the opposition to dictate the pace of the game."

Only the efforts of Reimer kept Ottawa, now nine points back of Toronto in the Atlantic Division, from swiping the lead and two points entirely.

"My job is to stop them, whether it's 10 shots or 100 shots," said Reimer, who remains unbeaten in Ottawa. "We don't really care how many shots we're giving up. Our job is just to stop the puck from going in the net."

"We feel we're fortunate to have the level of goaltending from Reimer and Bernier," said Carlyle. "We can go with either of them on any given night."

Five Points

1. Challenges of a Busy Night

Interestingly, Reimer explained that bloated shot totals aren't what wear down a goaltender.

"They threw a lot of pucks at the net," he said of the Senators, "but what tires a goaltender out on pretty much any team [is] their in-zone time. It's not necessarily the shots, it's them working, cycling. That's when you're in your crouch and you're looking at the pass across and you're moving trying to fight through traffic. That's what's the most tiring."

Regardless, the Leafs are forcing their goaltenders to be spectacular on too many nights. They've yielded 37 shots per game against this season, most in the NHL.

2. Reimer's Capital City Dominance

The unbeaten streak and brilliance for Reimer in the nation's capital continued on Saturday. With the 47-save performance – and two more in a perfect shootout – Reimer improved to 7-0-0 lifetime at the Canadian Tire Centre with a .970 save percentage.

The 25-year-old, for his part, had no explanation for his success in Ottawa, attributing it to simple randomness.

Date

Shots Faced

Goals Against

Jan. 11, 2011

33

1

Apr. 2, 2011

25

2

Feb. 4, 2012

49

0

Mar. 17, 2012

30

1

Mar. 30, 2013

31

0

Apr. 20, 2013

50

1

Dec. 7, 2013

50

3

3. Liles' Season Debut

John-Michael Liles hadn't played a game for the Leafs since Game 7 of a first round playoff series with Boston last May. He returned from the Marlies on Saturday, playing nearly 18 minutes alongside Mark Fraser against the Senators.

"I thought he gave us a good game," said Carlyle of Liles. "He gave us what he does best. He's a puck-moving defenceman. I thought he did a heck of a job for us."

The 33-year-old, who has seen his role in the NHL dwindle in recent years, said he chose to assess his situation in the minors without negativity. "There's an opportunity to dwell on it and maybe give the kind of 'woe is me' but at the same time that's not really who I am," said Liles, recalled to help a struggling Toronto defence in their puck-moving pursuits. "That was something I tried to not let myself get caught up in."

By all accounts, Liles had been terrific with the Marlies, totaling 13 points in 16 games. He credits Steve Spott, the Marlies head coach, for helping to ease his transition to the American League.

"Spotter has been fantastic for me," said Liles. "He said he expected a lot of me [and] I expect a lot of myself."

4. Late Meltdowns

Just as they did in near-defeat to the Stars on Thursday night, the Leafs very nearly let victory slip away against the Senators. Rather than attack with the lead, they simply sat back and saw it evaporate.

"I guess it's when we get a lead we freeze, do we freeze up or what are we doing?" said Carlyle, searching for answers himself. "We've talked about it a lot. We're beating it to death. If we had the answer right now, we would've corrected it a long time ago."

Ottawa cut the lead to one in the opening minutes of the third frame with Colin Greening outmaneuvering Gardiner for a puck in the Toronto zone, before feeding Condra high in the slot. Karlsson then tied it on the eighth Leaf minor penalty.

"It seems we work hard for 40 minutes of the game and establish the type of game we want to play and then we take some penalties that change the momentum and we don't seem to be able to get it back," Carlyle said. "But we won the hockey game, found a way to win and that's the most important thing. We've had some pretty down times here prior to the last two games, so no matter how you get the points, we're going to take them and move on."

"It's just a good feeling," said Gunnarsson. "We got the two points. It's not the way we wanted, but in the end the points matter so we'll take that."

5. Clarkson's Production

The first 20 games in a Maple Leafs jersey have passed rather quietly for David Clarkson.

Clarkson has just two goals and five points, numbers that, while disappointing in the scope of his more recent production, align more closely to the bulk of his NHL career previously.

On pace for just seven goals and 18 points this season, Clarkson averaged a not so dissimilar 12 goals and 24 points in his first four NHL seasons with the Devils. Though he played slightly less then – between 12-14 minutes – the 29-year-old garnered similar power-play time and a similar number of shots to those he's put forth this winter as a Leaf.

His more recent outbursts,perhaps unsustainable, seemed to alter the conversation though as far as expectations for the Mimico, Ontario native are concerned.

Two years ago, Clarkson posted career-highs with 30 goals and 46 points. That year he averaged a then-career-high of 2.85 shots per game, while shooting a career-high 13.2 per cent. While slightly less accurate the next year – a lockout shortened 48 games – Clarkson shot the puck with even greater frequency, establishing a new career-high of 3.75 shots per game. Also notable was the first unit power-play time he gathered in those two potent seasons, a fact of life that's diminished in Toronto to opportunity more closely aligned to those first four seasons in New Jersey.

All of which is to say that Clarkson's offensive production in the previous two seasons (120 games) may prove more exception than rule.

Stats-Pack

.970% - Career save percentage for James Reimer in Ottawa.

22 – Career goals for Phil Kessel in 44 games against the Senators.

42 – Career points for Kessel in 44 games against the Senators.

17:51 – Ice-time for John-Michael Liles in his season debut.

0.47 – Goals per game for James van Riemsdyk, who scored his 12th this season on Saturday.

6 – Consecutive games with a point for Kessel, who has four goals and eight points in that span.

28:32 – Ice-time for Dion Phaneuf, a season-high.

4 – Goals from the Toronto defence this season, Jake Gardiner scoring his first this season against the Senators.

Special Teams Capsule

PP: 1-6

Season: 24.7%

PK: 6-8

Season: 78.2%

Quote of the Night

"You know what? I think it's a conspiracy. I think the guys counting the shots, they're doubling up on it, I think that's what it is."

-Carl Gunnarsson, musing on the amount of shots the Leafs have given up this season.

Up Next

The Leafs return home to host Boston at the ACC on Sunday night.

James Reimer and Kyle Turris (Photo: Canadian Press)

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(Photo: Canadian Press)
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