TORONTO – James Reimer claims to have not taken it personally when the organization chased a goalie at the trade deadline, but the 25-year-old continues to perform like he has something to prove.
Reimer was the steady, effective force behind the Leafs sixth win in eight games and third in four tries against Montreal this year, stopping 36 pucks in a 5-1 victory at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday evening.
"He's been doing it for us all year," said Tyler Bozak, who scored the first of four Toronto goals in the opening frame, Carey Price chased from the Montreal net after four shots. "Every game he's been giving us a chance to win. Luckily enough tonight we were able to get out to a lead for him."
The microscope zeroed in on Reimer after the chase for Miikka Kiprusoff quietly closed, but his response so far has been nothing short of superb. After an initial letdown against the Flyers in the first game after the April 3rd deadline, Reimer has been a rock, stopping 120 of 127 shots (.945 save percentage) in four games, including the near-perfect effort against the Canadiens.
Boasting an impressive record of 16-5-5 this season along with a .922 save percentage which ranks eighth among goaltenders with at least 20 starts, Reimer's play of late has really been a continuation of his performance all year long. But because of his limited track record, question marks hover, only bolstered by the increasingly loud affair with Kiprusoff, who ultimately decided to remain in Calgary after the Leafs eager pursuit.
"I think just because of the city we live in and all the hype with the deadline about Luongo and your Kiprusoffs and everything like that, I think that because that was always in the air there was always a question mark," Reimer said of the lingering questions in the Toronto crease. "If Sidney Crosby was on the market, then every centre there would be a question mark. It's just how it is, it's the market we live in and just the situation it was."
Reimer received a phone call of faith from general manager Dave Nonis shortly after the deadline expired and claimed afterward that the open hunt for an upgrade at his position "didn't come as an insult at all". What it offered instead was a chance to prove his worth and capability as the Leafs number one goaltender, not only now but into the future, or so it would seem.
"I think you could maybe feel that way in some instances, but I don't think it's something you want to focus on," he said of trying to prove something with his play. "For us as goalies, there's so much [of a] mental side to the game [that] you've just got to focus on your game; the technical things you need to do to prepare to be the best you can out there and not worry about circumstances around you.
"I don't have to sit there at night and think 'Okay, I've got to be good tonight or else'. You've just got to believe in yourself and have confidence in what you know you can do."
1. The other goalie
Reimer could certainly sympathize with the goaltender at the other end of the ice on Saturday. Price was hooked after he allowed three goals on the first four shots, two of the three – Leo Komarov and Jay McClement – squeaking through the five-hole and allowing the Leafs an early lead they would not relinquish. "Everybody has a bad day," Reimer acknowledged of the off-night from Price. "It's just what happens. We've all had 'em. The best of the best that have played the game for 100 years have all had tough games."
Montreal actually outshot and really outplayed the Leafs in the opening frame, but were ultimately undone by their goaltending, the home side steadying the waters with maturity as the evening rolled on. "We were fortunate," added Randy Carlyle, his team adding a fourth goal from Dion Phaneuf on the fifth shot of the game. "Obviously Price had a rough night. He's a world-class goaltender; you don't get many of those evenings from him. I'm sure he's going to rebound. The next one he plays will be outstanding because that's the kind of character he's demonstrated throughout his career."
2. Kadri's admiration for Kessel
Nazem Kadri knew the asset of Phil Kessel's game he'd most like to add to his own repertoire. "Probably his release," Kadri told TSN.ca before Saturday's game. "His quick release, it seems so effortless to come off his stick. He doesn't need much time and space to let that snapper go." The 22-year-old has taken steps to refine his own shot in hopes of boosting it closer to the level of Kessel – who extended his goal streak to three games – stressing power but maybe more importantly, the ferocity of release. "Phil's one of the best in the league at that," Kadri continued, "getting the puck on and off his stick as quick as he can. In that case, it doesn't always have to be hard, it can catch the goalie off guard and still go in." Kadri has been employing the Rapid Shot shooting machine for help – located at the team's practice facility – a tool that helps to refine, improve and measure shooting ability. "It times your speed, your release, the velocity of your shot," Kadri explained, "just try and work on getting the puck off your stick as quick as possible because like I was saying, your shot doesn't have to be the hardest but if it comes off your stick quick enough it could catch the goalie by surprise and find a way in."
With his 15th goal and an assist against the Canadiens, Kessel took over the team lead in scoring from Kadri, now tied for 10th overall in league scoring with 42 points in 41 games. Kadri inked a single assist meanwhile, goal-less in five games this month.
3. More of the same PK
The Montreal power-play entered the evening as the fourth-best in the NHL, but was stymied in all four chances by the league's third ranked penalty kill. Over the past 30 games, the Toronto special teams unit has killed off 90 of 97 shorthanded opportunities, a 93 percent mark. "A lot of it is hard work where our four guys are prepared to go out and compete and battle and try to outwork the opposition's five guys," said Carlyle. The unit is a perfect 22-22 over the past six games and has allowed just three goals since the beginning of March.
Carlyle was not pleased with the efforts of his power-play meanwhile, the unit scoring on its first opportunity, but held quiet with the next four chances.
4. Gardiner's night
Returning to the lineup in place of John-Michael Liles, Jake Gardiner led the Leafs with nearly 24 minutes of ice-time against Montreal. "I think Jake was very noticeable from a positive standpoint," Carlyle said of the 23-year-old, who was paired with Ryan O'Byrne. "I thought Jake Gardiner had one of his better games; he skated, he moved the puck, I didn't think he was a liability defensively, I thought he had a good game."
Perhaps looking for an opportunity to get Gardiner into the lineup following two more games in the press box, Carlyle removed Liles, who had a difficult night against the Rangers, two mistakes leading to both New York goals. "Those are things that go into consideration," said Carlyle before the game.
5. Grabovski's weird week
Nik Kulemin had a huge grin on his face as Mikhail Grabovski ambled off the ice on Saturday morning to a large inquiring crowd of media. Grabovski had spent the previous two days in New York visiting with specialists for a digestion issue that had caused him to lose weight in recent weeks. "Nothing serious," he said of the concern, which often left him with the feeling of a full stomach. "It's just some infection or something I don't know." Carlyle said that close to 95 percent of the tests came back negative with the remaining results expected later in the week, perhaps by late Wednesday or early Thursday morning. Grabovski has endured a challenging and disappointing season – just 15 points in 41 games – reaching perhaps its low point earlier in the week when he logged minimal ice-time and fourth-line duty in a pair of games against the Rangers. With some pep to his effort on Saturday, the 29-year-old logged nearly 17 minutes, joined on a line by Clarke MacArthur and Leo Komarov.
Quote of the Night
"He doesn't get more than 16 minutes a game."
-Randy Carlyle on why Nazem Kadri has found success this season.
Quote of the Night II
"It's just what happens. We've all had 'em. The best of the best that have played the game for 100 years have all had tough games."
-James Reimer on the off-night from Carey Price.
Quote of the Night III
"We know that this game is very fickle. One day you're on top of the world and the next day you're on the bottom. We've lived that with the injury to Joffrey Lupul, [which] has taken us from a high to a low. We've talked about wrapping him in bubble wrap, see if that might work."
-Randy Carlyle on the potential for injuries at this time of year.
3-1-0: Record versus Montreal this season. The Leafs have outscored the Canadiens 15-7 in that span.
5-games: James van Riemsdyk point streak. van Riemsdyk has tallied two goals, five assists and seven points in that span.
4-games: Phil Kessel point streak. Kessel has mustered five goals, three assists and eight points in that span.
3-games: Kessel goal streak. Kessel has five markers in that span.
7: Points for Kessel versus Montreal this season.
2: Points for Nazem Kadri in April, both assists.
13-15: Toronto penalty kill versus the Montreal power-play this season.
15: Points for Jay McClement in 41 games this season.
17: Points for Jay McClement in 80 games last season.
11: Games without a goal fro Clarke MacArthur.
23:57: Jake Gardiner
Minute Watch II
4:59: Jay McClement on the penalty kill. McClement also added a goal and an assist.
Minute Watch III
16:49: Mikhail Grabovski
The Leafs play host to the struggling Devils on Monday before departing for a Tuesday tilt in Washington.