On New Year’s Day it will be exactly a year since James Reimer slid between the pipes for good and changed the direction of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Since then, the Leafs have gone 42-30-12. They have outscored their opponents 247-224.
Everything started with Reimer.
But concussion or concussion-like-symptoms – take your pick – have limited Reimer to just 16 of the club’s 37 games. This year’s statistics look ghastly, in part because Reimer has only accrued a small window of work, in part because the numbers are bad.
Reimer’s .899 save percentage ranks him 36th in the NHL. His 3.00 goals per game puts him at 35.
He is coming off being yanked in Florida and having a puck squirt between his arm and body that gave the Carolina Hurricanes their overtime win Thursday.
There have been extenuating circumstances aplenty: start with Luke Schenn’s up and down play and the loss of Mike Komisarek who despite his faults used his size to keep Reimer’s pathways clear. The team’s atrocious penalty killing continues unabated and the number one line of Tyler Bozak, Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul has softened defensively.
For whatever reason, Reimer’s game has slipped.
Consider Ulmerstandings XII
Reimer before injury
Save percentage: .909
Reimer since injury
Save percentage: .868.
The Leafs have looked like a playoff team since Reimer assumed the job. They have not however since his return from injury.
There are plenty of sidebars heading into the new calendar year. Kessel and Lupul sit third and seventh in points as well as fourth and 12th in goals. Bozak, slated for the third line with the arrival of Tim Connolly, has stuck as the face-off man, forechecker and defensive conscience of the first unit.
But the Leafs have scored 15 power play goals while surrendering an astonishing 39. The league’s most efficient penalty killing team, the New Jersey Devils, have given up 10 all season. Six teams have surrendered less than half of the Leafs’ total.
It’s possible to tease out how much of this can be placed at Reimer’s front door when you recall he has played fewer games than the tandem of Jonas Gustavsson and Ben Scrivens. At worst you can say Reimer hasn’t been able to lift the club’s sorry penalty kill any more than could the other two.
James Reimer is 23 years old. The average age of the top 10 NHL goalies in minutes played is 27.7 years. All 10 are older than Reimer.
There is time it seems.
But there is also urgency. A year after wedging his way into the lineup Reimer returns to Manitoba as his team’s conquering hero. The Leafs need him to be that way in the second half.
If he isn’t it will be a long summer on the prairie and in the country’s most populous city. If he is, an enchanted spring awaits.