Optimus Reim: the unflinching optimism of Florida’s James Reimer
Sometimes, a goaltender has an easier night facing 30 shots than facing 15.
James Reimer knows this. He even pointed it out after the surprising 3-2 comeback win he posted against the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday night; sometimes, those heavier workloads can make things a little easier in the long run.
Still, there’s no way to call his first period of the night on Tuesday ‘easy’.
Reimer allowed the first goal of the game with four minutes left in the first period, giving the Panthers a deficit as the first 20 minutes of play came to a close.
That sounds a whole lot worse, of course, than things actually were. All things considered, Reimer had an absolutely stellar first period; that goal wasn’t allowed until the 22nd shot of the game for Arizona, giving him a .955 save percentage at that point despite getting scored on 16 minutes into the matchup.
He would wrap up the night with 39 saves, giving his team the best opportunity to win despite a starkly lopsided shot chart. Arizona took 23 shots in the first frame, then just nine apiece in the second and third.
You wouldn’t know it from the way Reimer played.
After the game, Reimer was unflinchingly optimistic.
He entered Tuesday’s game with an .898 save percentage in all situations, posting quality starts in just 39% of his first 20 games on the year.
Part of that, of course, has been little rest to recoup on what’s been an incredibly difficult road trip for the Panthers. With no NHL experience for backup Harri Sateri, Reimer has played start-to-finish in seven straight games for Florida – nine straight if you count his relief effort for Roberto Luongo on December fourth.
The team’s regular starter is Luongo, who has Vezina-worthy numbers through the start of the year. But he’s out long-term with an injury, leaving Reimer to shoulder the load behind a porous defense.
That doesn’t faze him, though.
“As a goalie,” he joked, “you grow up wanting to play games.” Translation? You embrace the challenge, even when that challenge means workhorse-level loads and 40-plus shot nights.
He’s no stranger to this kind of situation, coming to Florida (via free agency and a brief stint with the San Jose Sharks) after years with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
During his time there, he faced 6,118 shots in 207 collective games, good for just under 30 shots every single night.
He was a tandem starter for most of that time, splitting the net with Jonathan Bernier, Ben Scrivens, and Jean-Sebastien Giguere before moving down to Florida.
Injuries to various players over the years left him with plenty of situations like the one he’s in now, though, and he’s been able to bring some of that to another team looking to get things going in the Panthers.
“Playing behind these really young teams can be fragile,” he explained.
Young defenders are susceptible to mistakes, and they haven’t developed the resilience that veterans have in tough games or hard road trips.
Shots bleed through, sometimes, and defensive coverage lapses (sometimes leading to 23 shots in a single period).
It’s hard to imagine Reimer getting discouraged, though – and his numbers certainly show he’s on his way back from a poor start to the year.
Through his first 16 appearances of the year, 10 saw him post a sub-.900 save percentage. Of those, only three were partial games, which can skew negative results with a smaller shot volume to pad stats involving goals against.
Since taking over for Luongo, though, he’s only had one truly sub-par game, and it was his second of the ‘starter stretch’ he’s in now.
His last three games? A .933, .921, and .951. He also posted a .971 five games ago, allowing just one goal on 35 shots against the Detroit Red Wings.
Part of that is his love of getting in net; he thrives on starts, enjoys the feeling of playing out a game even during those tough stretches.
Part of it, too, may be what he’s learned from his veteran starter in the iconic ‘Bobby Lu’.
What Would Lu Do?
“Whenever you’re in a situation, you ask yourself: what would Lu do?”
Reimer started off his career playing alongside a great in his twilight years, as Jean-Sebastien Giguere skated out for his age-33 season during Reimer’s rookie campaign.
Luongo, though, is on another level.
“You think about just how long he’s been solid. He’s been so consistent, so good, for so many years. You try to take what you can from watching him and being on the ice with him as much as you can.”
Reimer’s formally-trained goaltending career is younger than Roberto Luongo’s NHL starter tenure.
He didn’t get his first technical goaltending coach until 2005, when he joined the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL – and he didn’t get his first heavily technical instruction until joining the Leafs under then-coach Francois Allaire.
His game was heavily cleaned up by Allaire in a number of ways, and you can still see them to this day.
He plays with his skates on the post instead of in the net, giving him more control with post coverage, recovery, and lateral movement. He keeps his stick up instead of paddle-down, plays an inside-out style, and tries to conserve movement – making the ‘good’ saves, not just the flashy ones.
So instead of borrowing technical aspects from Luongo’s game, he takes from the consistency side of things – which works well for a veteran tandem with plenty of individual NHL history.
He’s a perfect personality complement to Luongo, who is one of the league’s most visible public figureheads on social media.
Luongo is the king of the lighthearted poke at his own numbers, the quick quip about his own bad save and the ‘caption this’ blurbs from his most hilarious on-ice stills.
Reimer stays relatively out of the public eye on the Twittersphere, where his wife is the social media guru (and champion of positive online interactions).
He’s quick with a smile, though, happy to talk about his game and even happier to give a quick shoutout to those around him. He has the optimism to go with Luongo’s quirky humor, creating one of the league’s most fun tandems – even if they aren’t the most talked about.
When asked who doesn’t get enough credit, though, Reimer looked outside of his own organization.
InGoal tossed him a last-minute question as the postgame was wrapping up Tuesday night: which goaltender isn’t getting enough credit this season?
He took a minute to answer. He doesn’t watch too much this year, so he’s not sure who’s being talked about and who isn’t.
His first answer was a few hundred miles to the north.
“Vasy [Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning] is having himself a year,” he mused. “But that’s not flying too under the radar, is it?”
No, not quite.
He then turned his attentions westward. Last year, he was told, Aaron Dell was the league’s most forgotten success story – this year, he argued, that’s probably still the case.
(He may not be wrong).
He couldn’t go without giving a shoutout to the pair manning the net in Edmonton, though; while it wasn’t quite the answer to the original question, he didn’t want to wrap things up without giving them a nod.
“That’s not the easiest defense to play behind,” he surmised.
“I haven’t seen [Laurent Brossoit] or Cam [Talbot]’s numbers this year. Are they doing okay?”
“They don’t have an easy time of it, but they both know how to get it done. They’re playing valiantly there; they’ve done a real good job.”
He isn’t wrong, although the pair don’t have the best numbers to match it this year. Talbot’s return from injury has seen him extend his personal winning streak to five games, while Brossoit is figuring it out on the fly behind an NHL team with a porous defensive structure. They’re an easy pair to overlook; Reimer wants to make sure we don’t do that.
That really says it all about the Manitoba-based starter.