COLUMBUS – On the afternoon before his NHL debut, Ben Scrivens comfortably took a snooze before casually flipping through the pages of a book.
The unusually calm pre-game tactics worked wonders.
Scrivens made 38 saves in his first NHL start, backstopping the Leafs to a 4-1 victory over the Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Thursday night. Despite missing starting goaltender James Reimer for the sixth consecutive game, the Leafs managed to improve to 9-3-1 this season, largely behind the efforts of the 25-year-old in goal.
"Any time you play your first game, you want to make a good impression," said Scrivens, who learned he would start from Ron Wilson that morning. "I was obviously excited, but I didn't want to get too excited. I want to just come in and try and play my game and for the most part I did that. I'd like to control a few more rebounds next time, but we got the win and that's the most important part to me."
The Blue Jackets (2-10-1) outshot the Leafs 39-18, controlling the pace of play throughout, but Scrivens was up to the task at all points.
In the opening period, he robbed Rick Nash preying in the right circle and coming up with key stops on Cody Bass and Matt Calvert later in the frame. Midway through the third, he calmly turned aside R.J. Umberger, hard-charging to the crease on a partial break.
All in all though, it was smooth, compact and economical saves that defined the night for the Spruce Grove, Alberta native.
"He was really calm in there for his first game," said Clarke MacArthur, who scored twice, giving him six goals in the last five games. "If that was me, I'd be really uptight and kicking the shots out into the slot everywhere. What a game he put together for his first one."
The Leafs were hopeful that Reimer would return from injury (whiplash) against Columbus, but he wasn't feeling up to par with his conditioning at the morning skate and sat yet again – he's been out since October 22nd. Jonas Gustavsson performed capably in his absence (3-2-0) for five consecutive starts, but now has the younger Scrivens breathing down his neck for action.
A former standout at Cornell University, Scrivens is briskly following the Reimer model to the NHL.
Like the 23-year-old Leafs number one, Scrivens excelled in the ECHL with Reading (.938 save percentage last season), before wrestling hold of the Marlies top job in March (.924 save percentage).
"He's played well in the American League," concluded Wilson following the game, "and maybe somewhere along the line, I should've given him a start because we do believe he's going to be a big-time goalie and he showed that tonight."
Most players claim to have trouble sleeping before their first game, struggling to shake the butterflies right up until puck-drop. But in the hours leading up to his debut, Scrivens composed himself rather methodically. There was a nap, followed by some light reading from Scorecasting, the work of L. Jon Wertheim and Tobias J. Moskowitz which details "loss aversion and the mentality that goes in behind decisions that happen in sports".
"I'm not a very superstitious guy," said Scrivens, who was recalled to back up Gustavsson on October 24th. "I kind of think that hurts guys and hurts goalies especially. I just try and relax.
"For myself, getting all fired up doesn't do me any good. I've played the game before. I was just trying to stick to my routine that worked in other leagues and hope that it translated into success up here."
For one start at least, it worked magically.