Toronto is in an absolute uproar after last night’s 6-2 loss to the last place Buffalo Sabres. Receiving the brunt of the criticism is goalie James Reimer, as the Leafs sink to two consecutive losses after having won their last three. What makes this loss sting so much for Toronto, though, is not that it is a second consecutive, but the margin of loss to a team that they should have beaten.
Before allowing emotion to irrationally take over and figuratively dusting off the pitchforks and torches after Reimer, let’s look at the stats of the game:
Prior to last night’s game, Reimer was 4-2-0, with a goals against average of 2.65, and a save percentage of .925. Despite having a backup role with Toronto, those statistics are really good. As a point of comparison, let’s look at the Calgary Flames backup Karri Ramo, New York Islanders backup Chad Johnson, Boston Bruins backup Niklas Svedberg and Philadelphia Flyers backup Ray Emery. Respectively, they hold a record of 3-2-1, 4-2-0, 2-3-0, and 4-2-1, having seen approximately the same amount of starts as Reimer. In those games, the lowest GAA belongs to Niklas Svedberg, with 2.41, followed immediately by Reimer. In regards of save percentage, Reimer held the highest one at .925, with Svedberg not far behind at .917. The most telling statistic, though, is that through 7 games played (last night was Reimer’s number eight), Reimer was also far and away the leader of shots faced, with 214, followed by Ray Emery’s 205, and then Karri Ramo’s 186.
For a guy who doesn’t get much starting action, James Reimer is called upon during a game much more than the average backup goalie. Truthfully, the statistics (and the brunt of the fan outrage), should be pointed elsewhere: last night’s game saw only Stephane Robidas and Morgan Rielly come out with a rating of +1, while the rest of the team had a varying range of zero through -2 ratings. As a team, the Leafs accumulated 6 giveaways, while only managing 2 takeaways.
Physically speaking, the Leafs hit their opponents 19 times, with Leo Komarov leading the charge with 4 hits, despite being limited to only 10:52 of ice time. The Leafs surrendered 35 shots on net, while only blocking 6. While Michal Neuvirth faced a similar amount of shots (34), the defensive effort was more evident for the Sabres, who blocked 15 shots, with Tyson Strachan leading the way with 4. They also out-hit the Leafs 40-19.
Positively speaking, the Leafs are doing an excellent job in distributing their ice time, with only Dion Phaneuf, Roman Polak and Jake Gardiner seeing over 20 minutes of total ice time (20:17, 21:28, 23:44 respectively); however, the inherent problem with Toronto is that there is an overall lack of physical effort put forward by the team as a unit.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are able to see great success when they are more physical: case in point, Wednesday’s 6-1 win against the Boston Bruins saw the Leafs block a total of 27 shots, allowing Jonathan Bernier to spring into action 26 times, saving 25 of the shots he faced. They also doled out 34 hits, while amassing 19 takeaways and only giving the puck away 10 times. Even in James Reimer’s last start in last Sunday’s game against the Ottawa Senators, Toronto saw success blocking 17 shots and dishing out 31 hits. Despite allowing 41 shots on net, Reimer saw his team earn the victory that night by a score of 5-3.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s not quite James Reimer’s fault that the Toronto Maple Leafs were blown out in Buffalo last night, but, in fact, a lackluster effort from the whole team altogether. The once-anointed savior of Toronto has fallen far from grace (Optimus Reim, anyone?), but the pitchforks and torches should not come out exclusively for him, but for the overall effort the team puts forth every time that Reimer is in net. In other words, one bad game should not determine whether an above-average goaltender is let go. Leafs fans, try to think rationally about this before you lose another player due to hasty, emotional decisions; you wouldn’t want to have another Tuukka Rask scenario in your hands.