Carlyle Was Bang On

By HOWARD BERGER

TORONTO (Mar. 19) – Anyone remotely familiar with this corner will know that a) I am not Randy Carlyle’s No. 1 supporter among current or former members of the media; b) that I’m a huge James Reimer fan and always have been. That said, I believe Carlyle gave an accurate and honest reply to a question about Reimer’s work in Detroit Tuesday night when he answered: “[Reimer] was okay… but just okay.” In fact, it may have been a generous appraisal by the Toronto Maple Leafs coach.

My own appraisal of a goalie begins with timeliness of performance. In most situations, I don’t particularly care about the quantity or quality of saves in the first two periods. Far more important is what happens during a tight match in the third period. That’s when a game is rescued or surrendered. And given that criterion, Reimer failed against the Red Wings. With Leafs trailing 1-0, Reimer was cleanly beaten to the far side by Gustav Nyquist. True, it was an excellent shot, but one that Reimer had to stop at that point in the game. Then, with Leafs trailing 2-1 late in the third period, David Legwand cleverly passed to Daniel Alfredsson on a 2-on-1 break – Jake Gardiner caught up ice on a pinch. Again, it was an elite scoring opportunity but Reimer was a trifle slow (and awkward) in moving laterally and Alfredsson netted the eventual winner.

RANDY CARLYLE IS CORRECT: HIS GOALIE, JAMES REIMER, WAS “JUST OKAY” IN A 3-2 LOSS AT DETROIT TUESDAY NIGHT. DAVE REGINEK GETTY IMAGES/NHL.COM

For the great puck-stoppers, the quality of a late-game scoring chance is immaterial. No easy save has ever been described lavishly. It’s the difficult – sometimes remarkable – stops that get noticed, and which separate the wheat from the chaff in the NHL. Jonathan Quick of Los Angeles Kings, as an example, didn’t win the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2012 for anything routine. He was named playoff MVP for the variety of splendid and timely stops he made when games were on the line – almost always late in regulation or overtime. The Kings, you may recall, eliminated Vancouver and Phoenix with overtime goals while ringing up a 16-4 record en route to their first Stanley Cup title. Martin Brodeur repeatedly did the same for New Jersey in years past; Patrick Roy for Colorado and Montreal; Billy Smith for New York Islanders, and so on.

Goaltending careers are made in the final eight-to-ten minutes of a hockey game. Despite the incomparable talent in front of him on the great Edmonton Oiler teams of the 1980’s, Grant Fuhr rarely had an easy time winning playoff matches. Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Glenn Anderson and Paul Coffey were without peer at the time, but “defense” was not a part of their vocabulary. Just try, however, getting a puck behind Fuhr in the waning moments of a 6-5 game. It didn’t happen. He may have been ordinary in the first 2½ periods – the remarkable shooting skill of his teammates allowed for that – but he knew exactly when to slam the door. Obviously, I’m not making a direct correlation between Fuhr and Reimer or the 1988 Oilers and the 2014 Maple Leafs. The front-rank goalies in any era, however, are those who get better as the game-clock winds down. Period. End of story.

As a small sample-size, Reimer was not part of that equation Tuesday night. Twice in the third period, he allowed the Red Wings to expand on a one-goal margin. The big, timely stop – one that isn’t totally foreign to Reimer – could not be made. Therefore, what was Carlyle supposed to say when presented with such a leading and rhetorical question? That his goalie was “fabulous” against Detroit? Even a casual hockey fan could see that Jimmy Howard far out-performed Reimer.

A much bigger question for Carlyle surrounds Jonathan Bernier and how an absurd decision at Los Angeles last week has deprived the Maple Leafs of their No. 1 goalie. I still have neither seen nor heard the issue raised by anyone with daily media access to the coach. Skating at “half-speed” this morning, it appears Bernier will be sidelined beyond Saturday night’s critical encounter with Montreal at Air Canada Centre.

Why?

Shouldn’t Carlyle be requested to answer for that?

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