InGoal Update: Wilson’s praise of Reimer comes with a rider
Plus: Michael Leighton gets another chance at brotherly love in Philly; Pittsburgh Flower ready for springtime; Price’s minutes still growing; and more in the April 7 update.
With a loss to the Washington Capitals Tuesday, the Maple Leafs were eliminated from the post season for the sixth straight time, joining the Florida Panthers as only teams to have missed the playoffs every year since the lockout. Despite that, there was at least a little reason for optimism in Toronto.
At the post-game press conference, Leafs bench boss Ron Wilson made the appropriate diplomatic remarks about the team’s having laid a good foundation for next year with their outstanding play over the last two months, citing the contributions of a number of key individuals, including goalie James Reimer. The Leafs netminder faced 41 shots- including six by Alex Ovechkin alone- before losing 3-2 in the 4th round of a shootout.
Not everyone was buying the platitudes, however. Tim Wharnsby of CBC sports.ca took exception to earlier comments from the Toronto coach, who in the past has run the gamut from tough love to outright disdain for his often-beleagered netminders (Wilson is the guy who once pulled Vesa Toskala for Curtis Joseph just before a shootout):
“It was disappointing to hear Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson’s recent remark that any goalie could have played well behind this team because of how well it has played since Jan. 1,” wrote Wharnsby. “What a slap in the face to Reimer.”
Reimer was the game’s First Star, with a performance that included this spectacular stop below:
Wharnsby goes on to question Wilson’s decision to start Jean-Sebastien Giguere in a 4-0 loss to Florida on March 17, a critical two points lost that could have made the difference this week, a game in which Giguere faced only 24 shots and was admittedly poor on some of the goals.
Contrast the above comment by Wilson with Washington Coach Bruce Boudreau’s assessment of the young goalie:
“Taking nothing away from the way the Leafs have played in the last month and a half, but (Reimer) was a real difference-maker. We had some 10-bell chances and he rose to the test. I think the Leafs have got a good goalie there.”
Earlier this week InGoal Magazine ran a story about Reimer’s mask, part of which gives testimony to his faith as a Christian. With the Leafs yet again on holidays, Reimer can perhaps find comfort in other reports Leafs management above Wilson have more complete faith in his puck-stopping talents.
According to ESPN.com’s Pierre Lebrun, that includes Toronto having no intention of pursuing Ilya Bryzgalov as an unrestricted free agent this summer in part because they believe in Reimer’s play (the other part reportedly involves a not-so-great working relationship between the oddball Russian goalie and Leafs goaltending guru Francois Allaire).
In the meantime, Reimer may get to console himself with an invite to represent Canada at the World Championships.
Leighton called back up by Flyers in time for playoffs
It wouldn’t be Philadelphia in the spring without a goaltending controversy.
The Flyers may not have created a complete conspiracy, but they made things interesting by calling up last year’s playoff hero Michael Leighton on Wednesday. After clearing re-entry waivers, Leighton is back in the big league as an insurance policy for Russian rookie Sergei Bobrovsky and veteran backup Brian Boucher.
Better call it brotherly love because the crease might get a bit crowded with three guys vying for playing time. Logjam or not, General Manager Paul Holmgren decided that some extra depth was needed, enough to run the risk that Leighton would be claimed off waivers by another team for half of his $1.6 million salary, though he would have been inelligible to play in the playoffs for any other teams had he been claimed. That’s not the case in Philly.
At least Leighton can justify his call-up.
Spending the last three months in Adirondack with the Flyers AHL affiliate after losing his NHL job to back surgery, he put up solid numbers, going 14-12-3 in 30 games on a team that had the lowest goal scoring total and the second-lowest point toals in the league. Leighton’s 2.22 goals-against average, .926 save percentage and five shutouts were all among the AHL’s top six (by the way, Philly’s goalies have 0 combined shutouts this year).
The bottom feeding Phantoms started beating teams higher in the standings in a large part due to Leighton’s play. Travis Hughes of Broadstreethockey.com suggested in a recent AHL game that Leighton “looked like a man amongst boys, clearly stuck in that “AAAA” state of hockey – limbo between the AHL and NHL.”
“Things were going well down in Adirondack recently, so when I heard I was being put on waivers, I was a little concerned about being picked up,” Leighton told reporters after rejoining the Flyers. “But I cleared, and this is what I wanted. I wanted to be back here in time for the playoffs. They told me for the last week that they wanted to call me up and were waiting for the right time. They didn’t want to lose me on waivers.”
Last year Leighton replaced an injured Boucher, who had earlier replaced an injured Ray Emery, when the Flyers were in 14th place. Over the following four months Leighton led the team to a 16-5-2 record, getting them back into playoff contention before spraining an ankle. He came back to replace Boucher in the semi-finals and backstopped the Flyers within two games of a Stanley Cup, so suffice to say that he has a decent argument for a second chance.
Will this decision be seen as a slight to Boucher or Bobrovsky, who has put up a 17-10-4 record and been steady in the support role? Holmgren downplayed that notion to Phillynews.com writer Frank Seravalli:
“It’s not going to mess with anything and they know that. Both goalies are aware of the situation and they know that. No one is stepping on anyone’s toes or anything like that.”
After pretty much proving that he has the AHL under control, it will be interesting to see if and how well Leighton plays in the Flyers last two regular season games, and moreover, who will get the call for the playoff opener.
The Flower is blooming again in Pittsburgh
Goalies are often noted for sticking to particular rituals and being loathe to change winning habits.
In Marc Andre Fleury’s case it might be worth speculating whether this year’s move from the Penguins’ expansion-era Igloo stadium to the new and ultra-chic digs at the Consol Energy Center was a change of habit habit he would have rather done without. Coming off two consecutive trips to the Stanley Cup Final, the change in scenery coincided with a radical change in fortunes and a drop in confidence for Fleury.Heading into November this season, the Penguins’ No. 1 goalie was mired with a 1-6 record, 3.54 goals against average and abysmal 0.853 save percentage, enough to force coach Dan Bylsma to make Brent Johnson the starter and hide Fleury from the angry public.
“I felt like everyone wanted to run me over with their car,” Fleury lamented earlier.
Even with Sidney Crosby and Evgeny Malkin in the lineup, the Penguis began 2010-11 at 7-8-1, and it seemed like the mediocrity that may have been behind their playoff elimination by the Montreal Canadiens the previous spring had carried over into the new season. The turnaround began on November 12 when the home fans, recalling how Fleury had rebounded against Detroit in the 2009 finals when they had shouted his name, began the same chant, just as though the regular season game were a playoff contest. Fleury responded; the Penguins won 5-1 against the Lightning and from that point on he has posted a 33-14-5 record, 2.15 goals against average and 0.925 save percentage. After a 4-2 defeatof the Devils the Pens are a mere point away from the first place Flyers in the division.
All that in spite of the absence of Crosby and Malkin, leading some to suggest Fleury is a Hart Trophy candidate.
Recently the Sorel, Quebec native set a new record of 150 minutes and 14 seconds without giving up a goal. Enough said: the Flower is blooming again. After spending the first months of the season wringing his hands over his goalie’s lack of stability, coach Bylsma gave Fleury his full backing as both the team’s and the league’s MVP:
“He is the guy who has given confidence to our team. He is solely responsible for several of our victories. He deserves to be our MVP and I think he should be a candidate for the league MVP.”
For a look at Fleury’s solid work from his last game, check the highlights from NHL.com:
How much is too much? Denis weighs in on Carey Price
Speaking of goalies who are carrying their team on their shoulders, it is no news that Carey Price has been bearing the Herculean load for most of his team’s injury plagued season. However, some argument could be made that the heavy demands on the team’s only real star are finally taking their toll.
Prior to Tuesday’s playoff clinching win over Chicago and Saturday’s victory in New Jersey (which incidentally eliminated the Devils from the post-season for the first time in 14 years) the Habs were 1-4, with two of those lopsided losses seeing Price pulled in favour of Alex Auld (the other two losses, in fairness, were 2-0 shutouts to Buffalo and Washington, where Price was named the 2nd and 1st star).
In a column he writes regularly for RDS.com, former NHL goalie Marc Denis commented on a number of topics surrounding the good and bad aspects of Price’s workhorse season (Price has just become only the third Canadiens goalie to play more than 70 games in a season):
“During the 2002-03 season I played 77 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets, who were not even in a playoff race. In all honesty, there were nights when I shouldn’t have been in the net. But at that moment I was the coach’s go-to guy, even if the situation wasn’t ideal. I admit that you have to be able to play well under different conditions. I know that Price is young, but historically, there have been limits to respect.
“He has been so good that he has gotten people thinking that the Canadiens are in fact a first tier team … What Price is going through bodes well for his future. However, with the bipolar fans in Montreal forever thirsting for victory, it is perhaps not the best situation.”
Denis also pointed out what all goalies know – and the reason Price and Nashville’s Pekka Rinne should get a few MVP votes of their own – it’s never easy when you have no run support at the other end:
“It’s tough for a goalie to start a game, knowing that he must do the same job even if his team is having trouble scoring. Every goalie wants to win games. It’s no surprise that a goalie who wins 5-4 is happier than one who loses 1-0. Price is no different. However, in a subconscious way, it must eat away at him to know that his teammates can’t put the puck in the net on a regular basis. So every goal he lets in counts. The Canadiens goalie musn’t think negatively in this situation. One has to be realistic; the team has bigger problems than the ones in goal. No doubt about it, Price will be in the net as long as the team is not assured of a playoff spot.
By the way, it could perhaps be argued that if Price gets tired of playing too many games in goal, he could easily switch roles and become a defenseman. Check the (friendly) hit he lays on PK Subban after the game winning goal in OT Tuesday night against Chicago, a game that he pretty much won by himself to quiet critics: