NEW YORK - The Leafs won't have James Reimer between the pipes yet again although the team is denying it is concussion-related.
The 23-year-old was thought to be ready to return from a minor neck injury – he missed one game – but team doctors have decided to keep him out against the Rangers in their home opener on Thursday night. Jonas Gustavsson is set to make his second consecutive start in goal.
"Right now the doctors feel he needs more time, so what can we do?" said Leafs goaltending coach Francois Allaire in a one-on-one conversation with TSN Radio 1050 at Madison Square Garden. "We have to go with the doctors and the doctors decide; they are the last line to take the decision. That's what it is.
"The decision for him is to rest today and see how the thing will progress in the next 24 hours."
Reimer is suffering from what the team has described as "whiplash-like" symptoms. An impactful collision to the head with Canadiens captain Brian Gionta in Montreal on Saturday caused him to leave an eventual 5-4 overtime victory after the first period – the team acted cautiously. He missed Monday's game against the Flyers entirely – Ben Scrivens served as Gustavsson's back-up – resting for three consecutive days before practicing with teammates on Wednesday afternoon. He pledged to have felt "pretty good" following the practice, but it was shortly thereafter that Gustavsson learned he would in fact get the start against New York. On Thursday morning, the club recalled Scrivens from the Marlies to serve as the back-up.
"When he practiced he said he felt pretty good," said Gustavsson, "but with concussions you never know right so I tried to just mentally be ready to go."
Gustavsson's mere mention of the concussion word created some confusion in the early afternoon hours. Ron Wilson stated that Gustavsson was wrong to arrive at such a conclusion.
According to TSN's Darren Dreger, team doctors are not diagnosing a concussion, but his symptoms are being treated as such.
The Leafs were hopeful that after 48 hours of rest – following the heavy impact with Gionta – that Reimer would be ready to play against the Rangers, but they've decided to opt wisely with caution. He is now considered day-to-day.
"He didn't feel can be 100% for the game," said Allaire, "so we preferred and the doctor preferred as well to keep him outside and see how he's going to react."
Last week during his season debut in Boston, Gustavsson – 1-2-0 with a 4.86 GA, .857 SV% – allowed six goals in a 6-2 loss to the Bruins, followed by a 15-save performance and win in relief of Reimer on Saturday. In his second start of the season against the Flyers on Monday, he stopped one of three Jaromir Jagr breakaways in a 4-2 loss. Monday marked just his third start in the NHL since a six-goal shelling at MSG on January 19th.
"We expect him to get better and better," said Allaire. "He hasn't played since January of last year so of course the first couple of games, there's a lot of rust getting out of his body. Hopefully it's going to get out as soon as possible and we're going to be able to have good goaltending during the time Reims is not there."
"That's part of being a goalie on a team," added Gustavsson, "you have to be ready to go anytime, especially times like this when you know the other goalie has some issues, then you have to be ready."
Following Thursday's game in New York, the Leafs will play host to Pittsburgh on Saturday before departing for a Sunday game in Ottawa.
It's a damaging blow to Reimer certainly after a strong start to the season – 4-0-1 with a 2.58 GAA, .912 SV%. He'll be assessed again on Friday, but it's hard to believe that he'll play on the weekend. The team is counting on Gustavsson in the present, but if he's unable to get the job done, Scrivens – a shutout on Wednesday with the Marlies – could get the call at some point.
"As long as we feel Jonas has been good enough probably he's going to keep the net," said Allaire, adding that the final decision was up to the head coach. "If another situation happens, why not. I think during the training camp Ben Scrivens was excellent and he got [off to] a good start with the Marlies.
"I think he's pretty, pretty close to the NHL. Maybe that's going to come, maybe in a week, maybe in a month, I don't know. We can not expect that. Right now we're going day to day. We expect James to be right back as soon as possible so he's going to be in the net."
Tim Connolly meanwhile, is set to make his Leafs debut after missing the first eight games with a shoulder injury. Tyler Bozak also returns to the lineup after being sidelined the last two games with a foot injury.