TORONTO – It was one of those times where a picture really was worth a thousand words. In this case it was a moving picture and the subject was Toronto Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer, who was clearly upset about getting yanked from Saturday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings.
The eagle-eyed producers of “Hockey Night in Canada” spotted the sour gaze Reimer seemed to direct at coach Randy Carlyle before the second period and anyone who watched the broadcast saw it replayed on a couple occasions.
Viewed in isolation, it’s the sort of thing that might make Reimer look fed up. At the very least, it appeared to hint at conflict. But when Reimer stood in front of a handful of reporters after what became a 5-4 shootout loss to Detroit there was no further evidence to support either hypothesis.
In fact, the only small trace of any possible tension came when Reimer was asked if Carlyle’s leash has been too short for him this season and he diplomatically replied: “I don’t know if I really want to get into that.”
“Obviously, I didn’t want to get pulled,” he added. “You know, that’s the last thing I wanted, I wanted to hang in there. But that’s Randy’s decision and I respect what he decides.
“I may not like it, but that’s irrelevant. He’s the one who makes those decisions.”
It was the fourth time Reimer was lifted from a game this season and, if nothing else, Carlyle could claim that it had the desired result on his team. The Leafs managed to roar back from a 3-1 deficit after the opening 20 minutes and even found themselves with a 4-3 lead that they were unable to nurse home despite some strong play from Jonathan Bernier in relief of Reimer.
When you peeled away all of the emotions from a night that produced a playoff-type atmosphere at Air Canada Centre, the game was a small step backwards for a Leafs team that is desperately looking to find some positive momentum. A win over a division rival, even one nursing as many key injuries as Detroit, would have been huge with just one game left to play before the Christmas break.
The evening also provided a reminder of just how much of a grind the next few months promise to be. Toronto is nearing the midway point of its season and still has no idea what version of itself will show up from night to night or even period to period.
In today’s NHL, where the Leafs are among a huge pack of middle-of-the-road teams, it is tough to produce many victories when you’re that inconsistent. No wonder their record now sits at 18-16-4 – good enough to hold down the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference … just barely.
Coming off a 34-save victory over Phoenix, Reimer was geared up to make a third straight start for the first time all season on Saturday. His teammates even provided an early 1-0 lead when Cody Franson’s point shot found its way through traffic and beat Red Wings goalie Jonas Gustavsson.
But Detroit started to come in waves and basically pinned the Leafs in their own zone for the remainder of the period. Pavel Datsyuk was the first to beat Reimer after a shift where he was all over the puck. The skilled centreman was allowed to walk right in front from the corner and score a goal that shouldn’t be held against the Leafs goalie.
Reimer himself said he was “100 percent” to blame for Joakim Andersson’s wraparound that deflected in off his stick to make it 2-1 and there’s no question that Tomas Jurco should have been better covered when he got in alone and squeaked a backhander through Reimer.
Immediately after the horn sounded to end the period, Carlyle told Bernier to be ready to start the second. The coach hadn’t liked what he saw from anyone and was looking for a response.
“I thought the rebounds were bouncing away from (Reimer),” he explained. “When a goaltender is in the zone, pucks usually don’t go through him, and their third goal went through him. I felt that the wraparound goal was a stoppable wraparound. So I made the decision … I was going to put Bernier in.
“When you do that you do that not based upon specifically the individual that’s getting pulled. You do it for your team that somehow you can get a spark for your team, and I thought Bernier came in and did that for us.”
Whether the Leafs would have roared back in the same manner had Reimer remained in net is a matter of debate. Bernier was certainly not the reason they were unable to earn both points up for grabs. In fact, the game probably wouldn’t have reached overtime were it not for him.
The fact of the matter is that Toronto was fortunate to even dig its way out of the early hole.
“We’ve made a conscious effort at being focused on starting well,” said captain Dion Phaneuf. “Tonight we didn’t get off on the right foot again.”
Added winger David Clarkson: “In the first (period) I didn’t think we were ready.”
That extended from the forwards to the defencemen and on down to Reimer. The only difference between he and his teammates is that he didn’t get a chance to stay in the game and turn things around.
“Definitely not what we had in mind and what I had in mind,” said Reimer. “They just scored a couple too many goals.”
Not much more needs to be said than that.