TORONTO – Slight cracks have begun to emerge in the Toronto crease.
Quietly stable through the first half of the season, Leaf goaltending has, in concert with a recent team-wide five-game winless skid, hit a rough patch. So far this month, James Reimer and Ben Scrivens have combined to post a 3.37 goals against average along with an equally untidy .897 save percentage, a considerable regression from the marks of 2.44 and .922 they managed in the opening two months.
Randy Carlyle is searching for an answer between the two. "We'd like for somebody to show us that they're going to grab the net," he said, ahead of Wednesday's home showdown with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Indicative of their inconsistent performance and the need for one to emerge, Carlyle has rotated between the pair of late; Scrivens earning the past two starts, Reimer the two previous to that.
Stoking a claim to the blue paint earlier in the year, Reimer started eight of nine games before he was helped off the ice against the Flyers on February 11, a mild knee injury shelving him for two weeks. He has not been the same since. The 25-year-old has allowed exactly four goals in four of his five starts upon return, posting a 3.35 goals against average and .898 save percentage in that span. "I'm getting that timing back," he said Tuesday, "and maybe getting your head back into it [as well]."
Off to quick start last season, Reimer suffered a serious head injury in a now infamous incident with Brian Gionta and was never the same afterward. He noted an interesting difference in the transition back from the two very distinct injuries. "There was some challenges with this one, but it's an injury now that you don't have to really worry about," he explained of the minor left knee issue. "[The knee injury] doesn't really hamper your ability to compute what's going on out there ... where if it's your brain, it controls everything else so it makes it a little harder."
Better than adequate in Reimer's absence – highlighted by consecutive shutouts at one point in February – Scrivens has lost four consecutive starts himself and five of the past six. He was hooked in his last appearance, yielding four goals on 26 shots in an eventual 5-4 shootout loss to the Winnipeg Jets.
The numbers between the two for the season are nearly identical, but of the two, Reimer is probably the quieter and more efficient netminder – high-glove hand notwithstanding – also winning nine of his 14 starts.
Goaltending was a quiet surprise for the Leafs in the first half, far surpassing the expectations of what remains a generally inexperienced duo. The question is whether one netminder will emerge to sturdy the crease as the race to the postseason heats up.
"We don't feel that our goaltending has been an issue," Leafs general manager Dave Nonis told TSN Drive with Dave Naylor early Tuesday evening. "We're happy with the way they've played. Both guys have given us some pretty good starts."