Coming into this season, James Reimer was thought to be the Leaf’s best chance at ending their post-season drought. The fans had affectionately named him Optimus Reim, reasoning that his performance had ‘transformed’ the blue and white into a far better hockey club. On top of that, he seems to have a natural and contagious sense of optimism about him – always smiling, and always positive.
That all changed when Brian Gionta leapt across Reimer’s crease and elbowed him in the head, causing him to suffer from whiplash-like symptoms for six-eight weeks. The real damage though, was to Reimer’s confidence. Having lost the reigns of the team to Jonas Gustavsson, and struggling to return to game-shape in the wake of what may or may not have been a concussion, Leaf fans began to get fed up with Reimer’s “aw gee shucks” demeanor and ability to brush aside losses.
The feeling amongst fans was that Brian Burke needed to go out and get a veteran goalie. There was a point where even the most ardent Reimer supporter might have agreed with that assessment. The team simply could not throw another season away because of young talent not meeting hoped for levels of achievement. Compounding the whole issue was the play of J.S. Giguere in Colorado. The 35-year-old who likely would have resigned in Toronto for a song, took over the starters role from Semyeon Varlamov and was putting up dominant numbers. The Leafs seemingly could not catch a break with their goalies.
Sometimes though, it takes a team to overcome a problem, and not one player. The Leafs are a perfect example of this. Reimer, despite excellent even strength proficiency, could not help the Leafs to kill a penalty if his life depended on it. The team finally hit rock bottom in Winnipeg on New Year’s Eve, when it seemed like every powerplay shot the Jets took found it’s way to the back of the net. Reimer would fall back to his goal line – clearly a sign of having abysmal confidence – and just hope for pucks to hit him.
The team made a decision to go with Jonas Gustavsson after that, but the turn around really can’t be attributed solely to him. The coaching staff and the players came together, and basically said ‘enough is enough’ in regards to the Leafs pathetic penalty kill. Since then, the Leafs have not allowed a goal while short-handed. They are the first team since the 72/73 Blackhawks to go an entire calendar month without giving up such a goal. While Gustavsson was a part of that, and he deserves enormous credit for helping the team to finally exorcise that demon, this was a team effort.
When Reimer returned to the net this week, the responsibility of killing a penalty didn’t fall squarely on his shoulders. While the old adage will probabaly always ring true – that your best penalty killer needs to be the goalie – the Leafs finally look like they have four guys out there in front of their goalie for the first time in years.
The result is that Reimer was allowed to have a shaky period without being absolutely shelled by the opposition. Some bounces went his way, and his teammates helped him through the rest. From that point on, Reimer’s confidence grew in the game against Pittsburgh. Last night, the concussed, struggling James Reimer of December and early January was gone, and Optimus Reim returned.
The game of hockey is played between the ears, and it looks like Reimer has fixed whatever was going haywire there just a short time ago. It’s safe to say, that Leaf fans should be feeling optimistic again.
Also, check Jonas Siegel’s blog about Reimer and the Leafs current stretch of strong play: Click Here
For further encouragement, check out this link displaying the Leafs statistical playoff chances: Click Here
And if you missed the return of Optimus Reim:
Finally, if you haven’t already done so, please take a moment to Read This Article About Brendan Burke