Is it Time For The Maple Leafs to Make a Goalie Change?
(Photo courtesy of theScore)
By Lukas Hardonk (@LukasHardonk)
The Toronto Maple Leafs went into Tuesday night’s game against the Florida Panthers on a high and well-refreshed following the National Hockey League’s Christmas break, or so everyone thought. Many factors contributed to the Leafs’ sudden loss to the Panthers, including poor goaltending.
The first goal came less than two minutes into the first period─1:57 to be exact. Erik Gudbranson rifled a shot from the blue line; it appeared to be tipped by Michal Repik, although credit was given to Gudbranson in the end.
The Leafs tied the game at ones early in the second period off of a goal from Mikhail Grabovski, only to see Bill Thomas give the Panthers a 2-1 lead 19 seconds later off a botched breakaway deke.
After that, the Panthers put it to the Maple Leafs. Power play goals from Jason Garrison and Kris Versteeg eventually made it 4-1 before Dion Phaneuf managed to cut the lead in half. It then appeared as though the Leafs had some life, only to fall 5-3 in the end.
While there were a few bright spots in the Leafs’ loss, such as Grabovski’s two goals and the final shot count (32-26 in favour of the Maple Leafs), there were too many lapses.
One dud on Tuesday night was goalie James Reimer, who was given the heave-ho after he allowed three goals on the Panthers’ first eight shots. It was then Jonas Gustavsson’s turn to play; he allowed two goals on 18 shots and fared much better than Reimer.
This has quickly re-opened the goaltending debate in Toronto. Some would tell you that Reimer deserves to start because those in front of him haven’t played all too well since his return, while others would say that Gustavsson should be between the pipes since he has been strong recently following a very slow start to the season.
It is a question that arises each season in every NHL city, but with the media-frenzy and impatient fan base that surrounds the Maple Leafs, one bad game signals the beginning of a heated debate.
In 15 games this season, Reimer hasn’t exactly flourished. With a 2.94 goals against average and a .901 save percentage, it’s a wonder that he led all goalies in NHL All-Star balloting as of December 20. However, remember that old saying about how statistics don’t lie? Well, maybe this is a case where they do.
Going into Tuesday night’s game against the Panthers, Reimer had faced 30 or more shots in eight of his 14 starts, and two others where he went up against 29. These totals include two occasions where the opposing team has landed 42 shots on him.
Many of the 41 goals that Reimer has allowed over the course of the season have been completely avoidable. One example of this is the defencemen ahead of him failing to clear the front of the net, resulting in shots that Reimer can’t see or ones that are deflected in front (see: Gudbranson goal on Tuesday night; it still appears that Repik tipped the puck past Reimer).
The fact that Reimer plays for the league’s worst penalty killing team doesn’t help, either.
That’s not to completely defend the man some people refer to as Optimus Reim, though, as he could still make some improvements in net. Similar to deflected shots, there was an example of this in Tuesday’s game as well, when Bill Thomas came in on a breakaway that anybody could stop.
The Leafs have struggled to win with Reimer in net at times. Now just one point inside of a playoff spot and unable to risk anything, is it time for Gustavsson to get a chance?
Here’s the bottom line: James Riemer has won two of his last three starts and made 40 saves in an overtime loss to the Los Angeles Kings four games ago. So he had one bad game─every goalie does and it’s their job to rebound from it and win the next time out.
With so much on the line even though we aren’t quite half way trough the season, does it really make sense to turn to a goalie who has been shaky for much of the season over your number one because of one poor outing? Certainly not.
Instead, clean up play in the defensive zone and give the goalie a chance to win, and that’s exactly what the Leafs haven’t done.
Follow Lukas on Twitter @LukasHardonk for more Maple Leafs coverage.