Reimer, Rung Up, Reignites Leafs

I don’t know if James Reimer ever had a birthday party as a kid, but if he did, I’ll bet he was mad if his mom invited people who asked him questions like, “Are you surprised it took this long to blow out the candles?” and “While you don’t wish the donkey any ill will, did you pin the tail on really, really hard, so that he’s out for a while?” Certain people who, it seems, grew up to be media people in Toronto, who peppered the guy with questions about how resentful he was that it took a Jonathan Bernier injury for him to get back in against the Kings Thursday night. People who also asked him what would have happened had an apparent hit to the head knocked him out of the game, rather than asking him about his stellar relief performance and first win since January.

Reimer took it with equanimity, smiling a pleasant grin. Perhaps he doesn’t hear the undertone, or he’s just able to ignore it. Or maybe he really did have a concussion, as was speculated after he and Jarrett Stoll collided. The story has been spun since, and the video does seem inconclusive as to where contact occurred, but the fact is, it’s possible to get a concussion without being hit in the head. Ask anyone who’s taken a body check and had the head whip violently forward or backward—it’s about the brain sloshing around, not where the initial hit was.

And the gentleman that he apparently is allowed the netminder, who came in to start the second period, his 27th appearance of the year, and, ultimately, his 11th win, to say all the right things. A sampling of them includes, “I always try to prepare as if I’m coming in to play.” “I got a little more work this morning than I would have, but I wouldn’t blow it up too big.” “I came in and did my job.” “I took care of business. I didn’t think of the future or the past. I just focused on the technical.” “I saw every puck. The defense was very diligent at clearing guys out from in front.”

And the reasoning for the questions in the first place? Reimer has not played, essentially, since Bernier became the main man back in late January. He has appeared in two games since then, spaced widely apart, the latest being two nights ago in San Jose. It was a drubbing, 6-2, though in his favor, he did face 48 shots, which tells you that the team was all but asleep in front of him.

And of further concern—he took a blow to the head by Stoll of the Kings, which, in his words, “rung my bell.” Yet his coach said after that it was not something that he would go to the NHL-mandated “quiet room” for, in part because the blow he took was to the shoulder. But you judge, and if you’re an MD, so much the better. I heard Reimer say after the game that he was hit in the head and that “anytime you get your bell rung, you’re going to have a headache.” Hmm. That sounds pretty much like a concussion, and you can take that from a guy who’s had a couple in his life.

When it happened, he stayed down for a while, and the trainer came out. He was on his knees at that point, not unconscious and, as far as it appeared from the press box, hadn’t been. So likely, there was nothing to be all that concerned about. But then again, a head injury is a head injury, and it shouldn’t really be up to the player to decide what to do about that.

The problem, of course, is that while Bernier was sitting on the bench in a backup role, he was in no fit shape to go in. He was suffering from what the team would describe only as a “lower body” problem and would only say was something that they would evaluate in the morning. That, of course, was BS. On the way down in the elevator, I heard a TML exec say very plainly, “Groin strain. He’s going to be out a while.”

Obviously, then, they didn’t have the option of going back to Bernier. What would the Leafs have done? Reimer was asked that question, too. Which again, is something like the equivalent of asking, “So, Doc, if you have to go on disability for your diabetes, what will I do for another physician?”

The answer is, “Learn some manners and stop asking stupid questions.” But what came out was, “I don’t know. Someone would have to do it. Perhaps Gunnarsson, since his father was a goalie.” When that player himself was asked about this, he said that he figured if no one else wanted the job, he would have taken it.

What they don’t know is that the job falls to me, at least in the case of the Kings. You can read about it in my book, Living the Hockey Dream. But that’s beside the point. What we know now is that Bernier is out, Reimer came in in relief and was superb, and that somewhere, the Leafs have to find a third goalie, or a second one, to back up Reimer, before they play their next road game, which is in three days, versus Washington.

And oh, to revert to the above paragraph’s middle point, was Reimer ever amazing. The greatest save he made, but not the only spectacular one, was against Kopitar in period three. The Leafs were shorthanded, and the puck came from the point to the net and out on a rebound. Kopitar got it at the left side and slammed a shot, and Reimer’s leg somehow made it over in time and saved it. The net was halfway open when the puck went to Kopitar. Halfway. It was 2-2 at the time.

The problem was, Kopitar looked skyward after the chance, stopping and waiting while the play turned back the other way. It went to the Kings’ net, and the puck went in off of the stick of Mason Raymond. Afterwards, Darryl Sutter was in a more surly mood than is common, and he said, in answer to almost every question asked of him, “We let in a shorthanded goal in the third period.” And that’s what cost the Kings the win. That, and the fact that Reimer and Bernier combined to face 41 shots and stop all but two.

Kings Notes

The team honored long-time player and broadcaster Jim Fox, including giving out bobble heads of his likeness. Good for you, Jimmy. You’ve helped me out in a million ways.

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