To call it a big decision would be an over-exaggeration, but Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle does have a choice to make prior to his team taking the ice against the Pittsburgh Penguins Wednesday night.
Does he stick with Ben Scrivens between the pipes or change gears and give James Reimer his first start of the season?
There are arguments to be made for both Leafs goaltenders. Scrivens performed well in 22 starts with the Marlies – the Leafs AHL affiliate – compiling 14 wins, a 2.22 goals against average and .917 save percentage during the NHL lockout. And he’s also given the Leafs in opportunity to win in both of the team’s games this season stopping 39 of the 42 shots he’s faced so far.
“It’s going to be a learning experience,” Scrivens told reporters after the Leafs 2-1 loss to Buffalo Monday night.
“I find that I’ve had a couple of plays already in my short career where you make the save and you say ‘oh OK that’s what works in that situation’ so you kind of have that in your memory bank or your bag of tricks that you kind of default to if that situation or something like it comes back up. But the only way you can fill up that toolbox is by playing and being put in those situations.”
But when you’re a team without a true number-one goaltender it’s easy to play the ‘win and your in’ game like we’ve seen the Leafs do so many times over the past few seasons and if that’s the route Carlyle chooses to take, expect to see Reimer get the opportunity to prove himself Wednesday against Pittsburgh.
If history has any say in the matter however, it should sway Carlyle to stick with Scrivens rather than rush to start Reimer – who hasn’t played a professional game since March – against one of the best teams in the NHL, especially with the Leafs in a back-to-back situation. They’ll take the ice against a much less formidable foe in the New York Islanders Thursday night, a game that’s much more suitable for a goalie who has been out of action for so long.
Last season after getting out to a 4-0-1 start Reimer went down with a “concussion” and missed 18-staright games before returning to the Leafs lineup for a Saturday night game in December against the Boston Bruins, a team that had outscored the Leafs 19-5 in their three previous meetings.
Reimer allowed four goals that night in a 4-1 Leafs loss and only won three of his next 11 starts in which he compiled a 3.00 goals against average and an .895 save percentage, numbers that aren’t synonymous with a starting goalie in the NHL.
The point here is that the Leafs have the opportunity to allow Reimer to potentially win back some confidence in a game against the Islanders – an opportunity they didn’t have last year – by putting Scrivens, who has faced far more pucks than his counterpart over the last six months, in goal against the star-studded Penguins Wednesday.
While Luongo rumors still circulate the city the battle for the Leafs net is currently between Scrivens and Reimer and in order to make it a fair and just fight, Carlyle is best served to hold off on starting Reimer until Thursday. Should both goalies win their respective starts and put together admirable performances, well then Carlyle will have a tougher decision to make ahead of Saturday night’s game in New York.