TORONTO – James Reimer chose his words carefully, but made no secret of his unhappiness.
“I don't know if there's a goaltender in the league that's happy when they get pulled,” said Reimer following an eventual 5-4 shootout loss to the Red Wings on Saturday night.
The 25-year-old got the hook after just 20 minutes at the ACC – in yet another sloppy first period for the Leafs – yielding three goals to the Red Wings on 12 shots. It was the fourth time in 18 starts that Reimer has been pulled and clearly it stung.
“Obviously I didn't want to get pulled,” he said. “That's the last thing I wanted. I wanted to hang in there. But that's Randy's decision. And I respect what he decides. I may not like it, but that's irrelevant. He's the one who makes those decisions.”
Randy Carlyle sensed something amiss with his starting goaltender on the very first shot of the game, one that he says bounced in and out of Reimer's glove.
“I thought the rebounds were bouncing away from him,” added Carlyle.
And though the first goal was a strike of brilliance from Pavel Datsyuk – opposite Toronto's fourth line no less – he felt the final two markers were stoppable. The first, a wraparound from Joakim Andersson, was one Reimer admittedly wanted back. The second saw Tomas Jurco camped all alone in front of the net – Jake Gardiner falling down in the corner – able to tuck a backhand through the Leafs netminder.
“When a goaltender is in the zone, pucks usually don't go through him,” said Carlyle, “and their third goal went through him.”
Two minutes still remained in the period when Jurco's goal made it 3-1 for the Red Wings, but it was at that moment that Carlyle decided to start Jonathan Bernier in the second frame. He told Bernier as much as the team exited the ice after a disappointing opening frame.
“When you do that you do that based upon not specifically the individual that's getting pulled,” Carlyle explained, “you do it for your team, that somehow you can get a spark for your team and I thought Bernier came in and did that for us.”
The Leafs scored twice in a resilient second period before snatching a temporary 4-3 lead in the third on David Clarkson's first goal since Nov. 23. Tomas Tatar would even the action at four with less than seven minutes to go – capitalizing on a turnover by Gardiner along the wall – before Daniel Alfredsson iced the first meeting between the two clubs in a shootout.
Though Bernier stepped in and stopped 25 of 26 shots, thus backstopping the comeback, one could understand Reimer's displeasure with the quick hook.
First, the team in front of him was admittedly far off-point early, standing around, in the words of Carlyle, as Detroit strangled hold of the action. And then there was the effort of the Manitoba native just two nights earlier, his 34 saves effectively carrying the Leafs to an eventual two points against Phoenix.
Throw in the fact that Reimer has been pulled four times already versus zero for his counterpart in Bernier (despite entering the night with slightly better numbers) and it's easy to understand where some frustration might lie with the lack of rope from the head coach.
“I don't know if I want to really get into that,” said Reimer, who was making three consecutive starts for the first time all season.
It was Joffrey Lupul after the game against the Coyotes who observed that “the one thing we know we can count on Reims for is compete level and battle.” And on this night Reimer was not given that opportunity to battle and perhaps that's what stung most of all.
“I think that's what any goaltender wants,” said Reimer. “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.”
1. Glass Half-Empty
The Leafs actually scored first for the 22nd time this season – Cody Franson's second of the year – but the lead evaporated less than two minutes later on the goal from Datsyuk.
“Obviously we didn't have a very good first period,” said Carlyle. “We score the first goal and then we basically stood around for the rest of the period and watched them do their thing. They out-competed us badly in the first period. We thought that there was no way that we could duplicate that period again. We found a way in the second to get our game going.”
“We dug ourselves a hole and it takes a toll on you trying to dig out of a two-goal hole like that,” said Lupul, who scored the third Toronto goal on a power-play. “If we take one thing from the game it's probably get off to a little better start.”
Toronto has been outscored 31-23 in first periods this season, capturing the lead just 10 times in 38 games.
2. Glass Half-Full
“If we're looking at positives, it's the way we battled back in the second,” said Lupul.
Just as he did on the opening goal from Franson, it was the effort of Peter Holland on the forecheck that spurred the Leafs second goal and subsequent comeback. Holland freed the puck from Kyle Quincey behind the Detroit goal before it eventually found its way to Dion Phaneuf for a one-time blast.
Quincey was then whistled for a high-stick on Kadri later in the period propelling Lupul's game-tying power-play marker, his 11th this season. Clarkson gave the Leafs a brief lead in the third, crashing the crease of former Leaf Jonas Gustavsson, who made 19 saves.
“Coming back against a good team like this it should be a huge confidence [boost],” said Bernier.
Toronto has outscored the opposition 44-33 in second periods this season and has led 16 times after 40 minutes.
3. Clarkson Snaps Drought
Clarkson had gone 12 consecutive games without a goal and had just one assist in that span, but he broke the spell with his third this season against Detroit. Earlier in the day he remarked on his struggles to generate offence.
“A lot of athletes go through a lot of ups and downs no matter what sport it is,” he said. “You'll see a guy hit well for a long time and all of a sudden he's on a lull.”
Just as he had against the Coyotes, the 29-year-old remained in a shutdown role against the Red Wings.
Paired with Jay McClement and Nik Kulemin, Clarkson's line was pegged to play up against Detroit's top unit of Datsyuk, Todd Bertuzzi and the aforementioned Tatar.
Datsyuk did find the scoresheet, but managed to do so with the Leafs fourth line and third defensive pairing on the ice.
“You're pleased when you win,” said Clarkson, asked if he was happy to find some offence. “It's not an individual game or an individual effort.”
4. Kadri's struggles on the Draw
Of the 88 centres who qualify for the league faceoff crown, only four have been worse this season than Nazem Kadri, who sits 84th overall. Kadri, who finished 4-14 on the draw against the Red Wings, has won only 42.3 per cent of the 494 faceoffs he's taken this season. The 23-year-old is down slightly from the 44 per cent mark he posted last season.
Jerred Smithson, a career 55 per cent marksman, said the biggest lesson he'd offer to a young centre in need of advice is “compete level”.
“It's just wanting to win the battle more than that other guy,” he told the Leaf Report. “That's the biggest thing for me anyway. You know there's always different techniques, but just the will and the compete going into the circle and wanting it just that much more.”
Smithson acknowledges that different tricks and techniques also make a difference, but notes that “if you're going to start with one thing it's just the battle. For me it's so much harder when I know a guy's coming in there and he's going to battle his butt off to win that draw. For me, that would be the starting point.”
5. Kadri on the Top Line
Kadri had a pair of goals against Dallas on Dec. 5 when he replaced an injured Tyler Bozak on the Leafs top unit. But since that point, the 23-year-old has been quiet offensively alongside Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk, totaling just three points over the next nine games.
“You're asking a young player in Kadri to fill some shoes of a veteran player,” said Randy Carlyle of the shift from Bozak to Kadri. “He's a young player still cutting his teeth to become a higher level first line, second line centre, whatever word you want to describe an offensive player. We're asking a lot of a young player right now where last year we were able to use Nazzie more as a third line option and protect him from having to play up against the top two lines of other hockey clubs.”
Squaring off mostly against third and fourth lines, Kadri had 14 goals and 35 points through the first 34 games last season. Through the same number of games this season, matched mostly against first and second units, he has 10 goals and 22 points.
Bozak is due to return from an oblique injury on Dec. 29.
4 – Number of times James Reimer has been pulled this season.
31-23 – Deficit for the Leafs in first periods this season.
3-10-1 – Leafs record when trailing after the first period.
44-33 – Advantage for the Leafs in second periods this season.
12-8-1 – Leafs record on home ice this season.
4-14 – Nazem Kadri in the faceoff circle against the Red Wings.
3 – Goals from Dion Phaneuf this season. Phaneuf snapped a 25-game drought with the Leafs second goal on Saturday.
4-5-2 – Leafs record versus the Atlantic division.
34-16 – Shot advantage at even-strength for Detroit.
17 – Number of times in the past 24 games that the Leafs have allowed at least three goals.
Special Teams Capsule
Season: 23.1% (4th)
Season: 77.8% (27th)
Quote of the Night
The Leafs visit the Rangers at MSG on Monday night, their final game before the Christmas break.