Is a Healthy James Reimer the Ultimate Fit in Goal for Toronto Maple Leafs?

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistApril 7, 2013

A much-improved James Reimer has the Leafs in a strong playoff position.
A much-improved James Reimer has the Leafs in a strong playoff position.Paul Bereswill/Getty Images

The Toronto Maple Leafs are going about their business as if they plan to be playing postseason hockey when the regular season ends later this month.

The Maple Leafs are in prime playoff position. They are in fifth place in the Eastern Conference, and the watchword in Toronto in 2013 has been consistency.

When the Leafs, head coach Randy Carlyle and general manager Dave Nonis look in the mirror, they must be absolutely giddy, as if the girl they were afraid to talk to in high school said yes to a prom invitation.

Ahh, the playoffs. How sweet it is for the Leafs after not having made the postseason since the 2003-04 season.

OK, nothing is clinched yet. But they are not the team that went on walkabout after two-thirds of the season in 2011-12.

They have structure defensively, and they play well on the road. They are a smooth functioning team that has timely scoring and goaltending.

That longstanding soft spot appears to be a strength this year with James Reimer in net. Reimer, 25, has put together a 14-5-4 record as he has worked out a comfortable partnership with Ben Scrivens. It seems the Leafs don't have to worry about a goaltending collapse this year.

That was not the case a year ago.

Reimer was not up to the task in the second half of the season. Reimer was 14-14-4 last year with a 3.10 goals against average and a .900 save percentage. Those are the numbers of a goaltender who does not deserve to lead his team to the playoffs.

This year, Reimer's improvement can best be seen in his goals-against mark. Reimer is allowing 2.52 goals per game. His save percentage is up to .919. On the ice, there's a significant difference in his demeanor. If he got off to a good start in the past, there was often a feeling that disaster was around the corner. This year, it's a different story.

In the Leafs' 2-1 win over the Devils in New Jersey on Saturday night, Reimer outdueled Martin Brodeur.

Let that sink in.

Reimer stopped 27-of-28 New Jersey shots and was named the game's first star. Brodeur stopped 16-of-18 shots.

Reimer has been playing consistently all season. He has earned victories over Pittsburgh, Montreal and Boston, the three best teams in the Eastern Conference. He has stood tall most of the season. He bounced back from a knee sprain suffered in February.

Reimer's biggest issue may be his performance once games get to overtime and beyond. He has lost four of those games this season, including two in shootouts.

Shootouts won't be an issue in the playoffs. Overtime games are a different story. If there is a crack in Reimer's armor and it shows up in an overtime game in the postseason, that's the kind of issue that could lead to his team's downfall.

So, Reimer is healthy, playing well and appears to be leading his team to a spot in the playoff this year.

But are all the Leafs goaltending issues solved because he and Scrivens are playing much better this year?

That question has not been answered fully.

The Leafs did not make a move for a goaltender before the trade deadline (per the Toronto Sun). They certainly were considering it, and if Nonis could have come to an agreement with Vancouver's Mike Gillis or Calgary's Jay Feaster, Roberto Luongo or Miikka Kiprusoff might be in a Toronto uniform.

Reimer is much better than he was a year ago, but he's going to have to demonstrate his talents in the postseason before the Leafs and their long-suffering fans can answer that question fully and honestly with a profound yes.

If he can do that successfully, Nonis and the Leafs can give up their chase for a big-time goalie.