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InGoal Daily Update: Optimus Reim(er) legend grows

InGoal Daily Update: Optimus Reim(er) legend grows

… as Swedish prospect Jonas Gustavsson is sent to the AHL. Plus Jose Theodore’s Roller Coaster ride to Minnesota; Blackhawks give Marty Turco a chance to find his rhythm, and more in the Feb. 4 Daily Update (*BREAKING: Updated midday with Rick Dipietro’s broken face and Jaroslav Halak’s injury)

James Reimer

James Reimer trusts his size, positioning and patience more atop the crease since a successful stint with the Maple Leafs.

Toronto head coach Ron Wilson wasted little time pulling in the reigns on the hero worship, downplaying the performance of rookie James Reimer even after his first NHL shutout, a 3-0 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday, just as he insisted almost exactly a month earlier it was too soon to start constructing statues.

Maybe not, but the Optimus Reim t-shirts have already been on sale for a while thanks to the folks at Pucking Hilarious, and with every start it gets harder to ignore the calls for the Maple Leafs to run with Reimer, who, as Damien Cox points out in the Toronto Star also happens to have a great back story.

It appears management agrees, because Friday morning they sent much-hyped prospectJonas Gustavsson to the AHL on a conditioning assignment to ease the three-goalie logjam with veteran Reimer and veteran Jean-Sebastien Giguere, and give the struggling Swedish youngster a better chance to rediscover his game and confidence.

Optimus Reim t-shirts are available for fans of James Reimer. (Image courtesy of Pucking Hilarious)

And just to be sure they didn’t create a similar problem in the minors, the Maple Leafs demoted Ben Scrivens to Reading of the ECHL, leaving Gustavsson and Jussi Rynnas as the only two goalies in the AHL.

Ironically, both of the oversized prospects recently told InGoal Magazine they have struggled to adjust the reactionary games that allowed them to succeed overseas to the more stringent technique preached by legendary Leafs goaltending guru Francois Allaire, a change that Reimer credited for his improved play.

Which brings us back to Wilson’s less than enthusiastic reviews Thursday, even if Reimer is now sporting a 5-3-0 record, .940 save percentage and 1.96 goals-against average through his first nine NHL games:

“He did a great job, but I thought we did a great job in front of him, too,” Wilson told reporters. “We made it probably the easiest game for one of our goalies this year. But he made a big save at the end of the second period on the breakaway and one save I think on the 5-on-3 and a few saves at the beginning of the third period. But he smothers every rebound, he seems pretty confident when he’s in goal, that’s a positive for us and for him. … He’s cool and calm in there Any coach likes goalies who stop the puck. He’s been very consistent, too. He’s earned every opportunity we’ve given him.”

That breakaway save, off Chad Larose with 40 seconds left in the second period, was his biggest:

Not that Reimer is going to let any one save, one shutout, or even his first nine games, make him complacent:

“Obviously I’m aware of the situation,” Reimer told reporters in Toronto. “My job security up here, there isn’t much of that. But as soon as I let those thoughts creep into my mind, I’m going to get nervous out there and it’s going to get to me. I’ve just got to forget about it and focus on what I can control.”

For more on Rynnas, who was playing beer league hockey just three years ago, Reimer and Scrivens, who met Allaire for the first time in Switzerland, be sure to check out our two-part Ask a Pro series on the Leafs prospects. And look for a more in-depth feature on Gustavsson’s struggles to adjust here at InGoal next week.

Interesting take on the “turnaround” of Calgary’s Miikka Kiprusoff

Calgary Goalie Miikka Kiprusoff

Miikka Kiprusoff is back to his old self recently, even if some might argue what that really means.

As the Calgary Flames fight their way back towards what once seemed an out-of-reach the Western Conference playoff race, a lot of attention and credit has gone to No.1 goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff, who despite some wobbles that the team overcame early in their streak, has looked better his last four or five games.

Some have written he’s back to his old self, but at least one writer wonders what that really means. In the House of Hockey blog on The Score network’s website, Jonathan Willis argues Kiprusoff is “Only A Franchise Player In Your Head.”

It’s largely a statistical based analysis, and if there’s one thing we’ve learned after talking to, and studying, NHL goaltenders for the last decade, it’s that statistics almost never tell the whole story when it comes to stopping pucks. The Flames defensive deficiencies over the last four years have certainly played a role, and watching Kiprusoff stop bullets in his teeth behind some of the almost absurd breakdowns that occurred last season had many believing the only thing that kept him from Vezina Trophy votes was the inability to get Calgary into a playoff spot when they would have been contending for a first-overall draft pick without him.

Still, there have been some almost inexplicable stinkers that got through Kiprusoff of late, and it is interesting to note the numbers that preceded last season and hear an argument that goes against the grain. We think it’s just as interesting to read what Kiprusoff is working on now, the extreme changes his game has undergone since arriving in Calgary seven years ago, and how he wouldn’t have made it to 500 games without them.

Jose Theodore keeps winning long after entire NHL appeared to write him off

Minnesota Wild goalie Jose Theodore

Minnesota Wild goalie Jose Theodore makes a save against Boston earlier this season. (Scott Slingsby photo)

Jose Theodore made 38 saves in Tuesday’s 4-3 win over Colorado, once again playing a huge role in Minnesota’s playoff surge behind equally stingy starter Niklas Backstrom. Theodore is now 9-7-2 (including his 250h career win) with a .914 save percentage, not bad for a goaltender who didn’t have a job when the season started, and was worried about his future before Josh Harding tore up his knee in a crease collision and the Wild came calling.

Which makes it worthwhile to revisit a great recent story by Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune that was written after watching a game in the press box beside Theodore. It examines the extreme ups and downs of a remarkably roller coaster career that has alternated between league MVP and media whipping boy, as well as the personality behind the heavily tattooed, guitar playing, puck stopper and the tragic loss of a child.

Blackhawks giving Marty Turco a chance to find his rhythm

It looks like veteran Marty Turco is going to get a chance to take the top job back from rookie Corey Crawford in Chicago. Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville confirmed Thursday that Turco would make his second straight start in February against the Canucks on Friday after only playing two games through the entire month of January.

Crawford was earning Rookie of the Year buzz before struggling in two losses before the All-Star break.

“You give him a chance to take it and go a little bit here,” Quenneville said of Turco, who stopped 29 of 33 in a 7-4 win over Columbus on Tuesday. “But at the same time their play will dictate a lot of things we do.”

Turco is a read-and-react goaltender along the lines of Martin Brodeur, and relies more heavily on rhythm than a more technical guy like Crawford, so it’s important to let him build a little momentum. That he lost the job to Crawford in his first season with Chicago was hardly a surprise given both the predictable ups and downs that have come in a career of instinctual goaltending, and Quenneville’s history of having a quick trigger with No.1 goalies. But it’s also important to realize that Turco, who is 11-10-2 with a .897 save percentage and 3.06 goals against average, played the most when the Blackhawks were playing their worst, struggling defensively early in the season after winning the Stanley Cup and losing so many key players to the salary cap over the summer.

“Give him a chance to get rolling coming off an important win for us and get some confidence,” said Quenneville, whose team is now fighting just to get back to the playoffs. “Goalies get a little confidence and they want to stay in the net and sustain a little confidence as well. We’re going to need both guys playing well down the stretch here. I’d love both goalies playing greta night in, night out and love to make tough decisions like that.”

InGoal Magazine will be covering Turco’s game live, so look for more on his play and insights into the technical adjustments he has made under Chicago goalie coach Stephane Waite, in Saturday’s update.

BREAKING MIDDAY UPDATES:

~ Injury has been added to insult with news New York Islanders’ goaltender Rick Dipietro suffered a lot more than a bruised ego and wounded pride when Pittsburgh’s Brent Johnson dropped him with one punch Wednesday. Dipietro will be out four to six weeks with facial fractures and knee swelling suffered after falling to the ice when Johnson landed a huge left hand just below his right eye. See the video and update.

~ St. Louis starter Jaroslav Halak has been ruled out for Friday’s game against Edmonton and is day to day with an undisclosed upper-body injury made all the more mysterious by the fact he took part in the morning skate. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has the latest on a suspected hand injury, Ty Conklin getting the start, and 6-foot-7 prospect Ben Bishop getting called up from AHL Peoria to fill in.

About The Author

Kevin Woodley

Kevin Woodley is a rec-league target and former contributing editor of the Goalie News magazine. He has written about the Vancouver Canucks and NHL for The Associated Press, USA Today, Sports Illustrated and The Hockey News for the last decade, and covered the 2010 Olympics for The AP.

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