Roger Lajoie of the FAN590 used to preach that “hockey is goaltending.” It is hard to disagree with that statement.
The tender between the pipes decides the game on most nights. If he falters and allows a meatloaf of goals then his team will likely take the tumble with him down the loss column. The same can be said if the goaltender stands on his head but the difference is that the team would be headed in the positive direction.
The Toronto Maple Leafs this season are forced to rely on their goaltender to a greater extent than most other teams in the league. They don’t have a great offensive unit, nor a stellar defense. Both those positions have been nothing short of below average the last few seasons and it has made it extremely tough to reach the playoffs. That concludes to the fact the Leafs will have to look to their goaltending to push them over the hump.
Unfortunately for the Leafs, big question marks arise between the pipes. A native out of Morweena, Winnipeg is the number one goalie with only 37 games of NHL experience under his belt. His name is James Reimer, 23 years old and entering just his second season of hockey. It is safe to say that not many thought that he would be leading the Maple Leafs squad onto the ice for the 2011/2012 campaign, when the team drafted him back in the third round of the 2006 draft. Most thought he would not even be able to make the NHL.
Reimer posted spectacular numbers last year in a relief position for the Leafs with a .921 save percentage along with a 2.60 goals against average. While the team struggled, he flourished and eventually brought importance to the back half of the regular season for the Leafs. He provided the team with a hope for the playoffs and in return he gained the love of Maple Leafs faithful which sprung such nicknames as “Optimus Reim, “Reiminister of Defense,” and others.
Amidst all his success, there is always room for bust due to his age and lack of experience in goal. He has not really proven anything in the NHL level when it comes to a legitimate long-term lock. The reason for that is because he has not been given the chance to prove himself as an NHL number one goalie, so it is unfair to bring up the topic. However, this is the year he will be given the chance.
The Maple Leafs enter the season with James Reimer leading the way. This is his chance to prove what he is worth, this is the time for the Maple Leafs to prove they have answered their goaltending issues, and this is the time for the Leafs to rise to power under Reimer. In saying that, if Reimer falters, the team will come sprawling down with him into another lottery position. That is the amount of pressure on Reimer right now, his shoulders couldn’t possibly take anymore.
As for Jonas Gustavsson, he is no longer looked upon as the “goaltender of the future” as he did what Reimer needs to stray away from, falter when given the opportunity to prove his worth. The Leafs haven’t given up on him all together as they have brought him back for a third season. He will back up Reimer.
This could be the last year for the Swedish Monster in Toronto. He is on a contract year and becomes an unrestricted free agent after this season. Injuries are a chance for others to step up, if anything happens to James Reimer this year than the Monster will be called to duty. If he does not take advantage of his opportunities, then his tenure in Toronto will surely come to an end next year. He has no choice but to impress Maple Leafs management, any opportunity he is given to play in a game. The chances will come.
The Maple Leafs goaltending this year is a tale of two extremes. One goalie who is feeling the love from Leafs fans and sitting in a throne with an array of light ascending down on him. Another goalie who is crammed in a corner, with a dark gaze dominating his complexion.
It will be interesting to watch what comes out of this. One thing is for sure, it will be a dogfight.
If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to email me at: Raihanhussain@msn.com. All inquiries are welcome!