Reimer Has Earned a Stretch

By HOWARD BERGER

TORONTO (Nov. 25) – While Randy Carlyle is loathe to anoint a pecking order among his two reliable goalies, circumstance may force him to periodically deviate from that plan. 

One such occasion is upon the coach right now.

James Reimer – the wily, imperturbable incumbent – has earned the right to play a stretch of games for the Maple Leafs. His marvelous performance in a shootout victory over Washington Saturday has appropriately elicited Carlyle to give him another start tonight against Columbus at Air Canada Centre. A second triumph, in my view, should enable that string to continue at Pittsburgh on Wednesday. With consecutive-night games on the weekend – at Buffalo Friday; home to Montreal Saturday – Carlyle can again split the netminding chores.

During a recent Coach’s Corner segment on Hockey Night In Canada, Don Cherry – in conspiracy mode – suggested Leafs were “hanging Reimer out to dry” by giving him the most cumbersome assignments. Cherry believed, with some rationale, that Leafs were “protecting” Jonathan Bernier as their prime acquisition of the off-season; ensuring he would develop the stamina and confidence to be a No. 1 goalie in the NHL for the first time (having played second-fiddle to Jonathan Quick in Los Angeles). I agree with Don that Bernier was obtained for that very purpose, yet I also contend that Carlyle has simply been fair to Reimer.

When the Leafs scored a trio of third-period goals to impressively bounce the Penguins, 4-1, at the ACC on Oct. 26, it was Reimer who held his team in the game through 40 minutes. Carlyle befittingly gave Reimer the start – three nights later – in Edmonton to open a western-Canada swing and the goalie responded with a flawless 43-save effort in a 4-0 whitewash of the Oilers. The following night, in Calgary, Carlyle turned to Bernier and was again rewarded with a 4-2 victory – the Flames also directing 43 shots at the Toronto goal. After a two-day break, Leafs finished the trip with a late-afternoon game in Vancouver. Carlyle, having every good reason, went back to Reimer, who made a trio of miraculous stops in the opening six minutes when Leafs were out-gunned, 11-0, on the shot clock. Ultimately, the visitors turned in their poorest effort of the season to this point – Canucks bombarding Reimer with 46 more volleys in a 4-0 conquest. Reimer wasn’t particularly sharp, but neither did he receive a scintilla of help from his teammates, who virtually stopped playing in the final ten minutes.

Just more than three weeks later, Reimer is again showing the way.

JAMES REIMER REJOICES AFTER GUIDING LEAFS TO A 2-1 SHOOTOUT VICTORY OVER WASHINGTON SATURDAY AT AIR CANADA CENTRE. GRAIG ABEL GETTY IMAGES/NHL.COM      

Of course, this isn’t to condemn Bernier. Under no circumstance would the Leafs have 29 points in 23 games were each goalie not playing lights out. Though Leafs can score, they are one of the toughest teams in the NHL to play behind – out-shot, lop-lopsidedly, in almost every game. It’s an otherwise talented club that has to be “saved” on a regular basis, not unlike the good Leaf teams of the past generation – under Pat Burns in the early-90’s and Pat Quinn in the late-90’s and early-2000’s. Bernier and Reimer have come to the rescue more often than can be reasonably expected. Without both men, Leafs would not be in a stout playoff posture at the one-quarter mark of the season.

A lone element, however, separates the Toronto goalies: Reimer has all-but eliminated concentration lapses; Bernier has not. You may ask: “How can either man, facing 35 to 40 shots a game, fail to be alert?” I don’t have the answer. All I know is that Bernier – on at least three occasions – has undermined a splendid performance by allowing soft goals. No aspect of playing the position can so dismantle a career in the NHL. It was the downfall, here, of Felix Potvin in the late-90’s, prompting then-GM Ken Dryden – after a fateful, convenience store encounter with agent Don Meehan – to sign Curtis Joseph as a free agent. In more recent years, Andrew Raycroft, Vesa Toskala and Jonas Gustavsson played their way out of town by regularly fanning on weak shots.

Bernier has all the physical tools to become a front-rank goaltender for the Maple Leafs. But, he cannot let down his guard for even a moment with the amount of time and space accorded opposition shooters so far this season. At the moment, Reimer is the better goalie. His brilliant .947 save percentage ranks first in the NHL and his 2.10 goals-against average is similarly impressive, given the number of shots he has faced. Moreover, Reimer’s extraordinary attitude has trumped even his statistics. Rather than becoming discouraged with the addition of Bernier, Optimus Reim has risen to the challenge of potentially being supplanted as the club’s No. 1 goalie.

Right now, he is that man.

And Carlyle should continue to recognize such aplomb.

BACK IN TIME – NEARLY 50 YEARS

The book-selling industry in this city lost a giant when cancer claimed the life of Allen Navis in mid-October. Al was co-proprietor of the Handy Book Exchange on Avenue Road (between Wilson and Lawrence) here in mid-town Toronto. It was both ironic and tragic that he would pass away mere weeks before the 50th anniversary of the John F. Kennedy assassination, as no person in this country could speak on the topic with such authority and expertise.

I knew Allen for the better part of a quarter-century, having frequented his book shop to collect old sports and news items. Among them was a complete set of The Hockey News issues from the 1965-66 NHL season. After buying them roughly 20 years ago from Allen, I had the newspapers bound chronologically into book form (below).

This was two years before the NHL expanded from six to 12 teams. Bobby Hull, Gordie Howe, Jean Beliveau and Stan Mikita were the most prominent figures in the game; Bobby Orr would not debut with Boston until the following year. In this first of a series, I have photographed – from the set of newspapers – a number of the most prominent stories and images from May through November of 1965. Please enjoy:

JEAN BELIVEAU – FIRST WINNER OF THE CONN  SMYTHE TROPHY.

WHO IS THIRD MAN FROM LEFT IN THE TOP ROW (ABOVE)?

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