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Keep in mind, good Leaf teams have always been bailed out by good goaltending…

I realize that some Leaf supporters are mightily concerned that James Reimer is being “relied upon” to win games for us.  But let’s best honest:  this is virtually always the way it is in hockey, at least when it comes to the Maple Leafs.  Do some of you remember the ’67 playoffs?  Do you think we win without Johnny Bower (when he was healthy that spring, at least- see the great old photo of Johnny in action against the Rangers in the early '60s, below right) and Terry Sawchuk?  And heck, Sawchuk had at least three awful games in those two payoff rounds, and we still won the Cup and he was almost the Conn Smythe Trophy winner…

When the Leafs were rebuilding, much like now, in the very early ‘70s, do we think Bernie Parent and Jacques Plante were just bystanders? They were hugely instrumental in helping a largely young defense corps- six defensemen under the age of 25/26, as I recall.  (Some of you will remember the names: Glennie, Dorey, Ley, Selwood, Pelyk and McKenny with only Bobby Baun as veteran support...)

Later that decade, when the Leafs were pretty good under Roger Neilson, did Mike Palmateer not help gloss over some imperfections? You bet.  Those were some pretty decent squads with Sittler, McDonald, Turbull, Salming, Maloney and hard-working role-players like Jimmy Jones and Pat Boutette, but they needed superb goaltending at times to compete with the league’s best.

Allan Bester and Ken Wregett, while never All-Stars, certainly helped some awful Leaf teams be a little less awful in the 1980s.

And of course we know that Felix Potvin (left) might have had a bit to do with the Leafs getting to the “final-four” in 1993 and 1994.  He was absolutely a huge part of a team many of us fell in love with, because they had grit, heart (Peter Zezel and others), a flawed but hard-working no-name defense and a bit of skill up front, too.  What Leaf fans did not gush about "Wendel" and “Dougie” in those golden days of being a Leaf enthusiast?

Then there were the Pat Quinn teams a decade or so ago, tough, skilled, but with roster holes to be sure.  Curtis Joseph certainly made a difference in our boys again getting to the final-four twice.  (And we should have got even further in 2002…but I'll set that aside.)

All by way of saying:  find the flaws on the roster, pick apart the coaching, pull out all the stats you want.  But at the end of the day, really good goaltending is almost always a big part of overall “winning” team play.  It’s a symbiotic relationship.  That James Reimer has played well and helped the team overcome shot disadvantages and sometimes poor play is hardly new in hockey.

If he stumbles, we have an issue, of course- no matter how well his teammates do in front of him.  But that’s the same as it has always been in hockey.  Do we think Ken Dryden (in one of those old posed shots, sans mask, right...) didn’t often bail out those immensely talented Hab squads in the 1970s?  Those were some of the best hockey teams I have ever seen (and I hated them deeply), especially the squads around 1976- and ’77. Yet he covered up a lot of “mistakes”, giveaways and poor play. They would not have won all those Cups without remarkable netminding.

I don’t recall that Bernie Parent was just standing around when the “Broad Street Bullies” won in the mid-‘70s, as good and tough as those Flyer teams were.

Bottom line?  Even great teams make all kinds of mistakes on the ice, and generally need great goaltending to “win”.  The LA Kings sure did just a year ago, and Jonathan Quick delivered precisely that.

If the Leafs get that this spring, as they have through much of this season, my suggestion is that we do our best to simply enjoy it.

There is no need to fret about it, about having to "depend" on our goalie. That's what these guys are supposed to do.  Leaf fans should probably just feel good that we have a young goalie who looks like he can be a good player for years to come- and can handle this market, too.


For those interested in the "Leaf Matters" podcast, Episode 56 is now available on iTunes and the PodAlmighty Network.  Our guest is James Mirtle from The Globe & Mail.


  1. Everybody seem to think Reimer saved the Leafs on Sat. and several of my Sens fan buddies kept insisting the Sens dominated the Leafs. My older brother is a Leaf fan (that's why I am - wow, I could have been a Hab fan) and was at the Sat. game and even he said he was happy to take the two points but he said Reimer stole the show and that the Leafs offence could not do anything and really sucked. He thought the Sens totally outplayed the Leafs and a lot of those Sens shots could have gone in. So I argued with him that it was a lot closer than he thought although I bent and agreed the Sens did have a slight edge. I actually thought the Leafs played pretty good so I watched the game again this afternoon on the PVR just to make sure I wasn't imagining things. It was a lot closer than the shots would indicate. I agree there were quite a few plays where the passing didn't quite click which made it seem like nothing was happening but they kept carrying the puck in and then attempting to get it to the slot for a high percentage shot and a lot of times they didn't connect or the Sens broke the play up or they got a shot off that hit somebody or went wide. But the Sens are a good defensive team so you have to expect them to break up Leaf attempted plays. On the other end the Sens were taking tons of shots from bad angles and Reimer just had to stand there and let the puck hit him. Even the "great save by Reimer" on the two close in shots by Condra was no big deal. The first shot he fired it into Reimer's pad but would have scored if he had been able to raise it. The second shot was not really even a shot as he just pushed the puck into Reimer's pad as he had no time or space to raise it. Aside from those two Condra scoring chances the Sens really didn't have many other ones. I don't know where all these great Sens scoring chances were, they had lots of shots from bad angles or the point and a couple of scrambles around the net. No sustained pressure or close in shots or odd man rushes, it looked to me like a good defensive game from the Leafs and they were happy to let the Sens shoot from the perimeter. I have seen games where the Leafs are totally outplayed but when that happens the other team has the puck in the Leaf end and the Leafs are panicking and chasing around until it becomes total chaos with several good scoring chances ending up in a goal or penalty. When I watched the game for a second time I did not see the chaos and the Leafs seemed to get better later in the game. I agree Reimer is playing great but he has also been lucky as well. What I really think is the whole team is playing good and could win a few rounds. And Kessel has been unbelievable, I heard today that since the 2010 season there are only four players who have more points than Kessel. I'd say that puts him in the elite category.

  2. A 37 year old Johnny Bower and 30 year old Don Simmons tended the net before I ever saw them play (not to mention a wet-behind-the ears, 21 year old Gerry Cheevers, who played his 2 games with the Leafs that year). My 'arrival' just InTimeFor the '62 cup final game shortly before puck drop in Chicago (on this day 51 years ago) was the start of a passionate lifelong following... those were some excellent goaltenders to have in the fold!

    Hope we're soon to add the names James Reimer and Ben Scrivens to a list of notable playoff runs in this era, for which they will be remembered fondly somewhere down life's road!

    Perhaps someone born in JUNE (rather than April!) will share the telling of a life story that will begin like mine - which we all hope will start with a timely birth in a couple months, just before the final series winning game!

    No matter how unlikely, we can still hope for this season, right(?)!

  3. Not much more to say but "amen" - and not because I think we'll need Divine intervention to advance! Without a strong performance from the goalie, it's mighty tough for any to advance very far in the playoffs. I had my doubts about Reimer - mainly because the healthy sample size was so small - but it seems he's getting stronger and stronger with each game.
    Playoff wins are often about taking advantage of the other team's mistakes - and their penalties. No goalie can stop them all, but as Brian Burke said, James does indeed appear to be the "real deal". We will definitely need to ride his hot hand if we hope to advance very far.

  4. There's no arguing with what you wrote Michael - clearly, the outstanding goal-tending is a requirement for the Cup run, clearly Reimer has been outstanding this year, and there is no doubt in my mind that we absolutely need him to perform if we are to hope for anything more than an unceremonious first-round exit.

    Having said that, I would like to point out that the Leafs have improved defencively this year and especially on PK. The stats (giveaways, shots against, scoring chances against) may be worse for this year than any previous one in recorded history for all I care (and that seems to be what some of the bloggers are suggesting) but there is no doubt in my mind that this year Reimer has not been consistently exposed to 2 on 1 and 3 on 1 chances and breakaways as has been the case over the last few seasons.

    Carlyle's system is real - defencive responsibility is being emphasized and much of the game is being played with defence-first attitude. Kessel is not floating as much, Kadri is being called out and benched for taking liberties and we've seen him make amazing defencive plays this season and Grabo, Kuli, Komarov and McClement are essentially functioning as extra defencemen much of the time. A good example of this is the last period of the latest game where I noticed the `floater` Lupul being `rested` for most of the period and then coming back to steal the puck and put away the game; Kessel stick-checked like mad and stole a bunch of pucks off the Senators and cleared the zone more than twice; and then there`s Kuli, Komarov and McClement doing what they do practically every time we are trying to close out the game when up - working hard and making it impossible for the opposition to set up.

    The same rules apply to defence - there is a very good reason why Gardiner hasn't seen much ice this year - the message is clear - learn to hit and check and block shots or you don't get to play. The system is working and being outshot in today's Leafworld simply means that the shots are not the great scoring chances to worry about but weak shots from afar or bad angles. This year, the puck is more often out of the zone than 'to the line but not out', the crease is effectively cleared (loose pucks are not allowed to hang around) and players are being boxed out of the crease. The shots that Reimer is facing and the scoring chances that are being counted are simply not the kind that he had to deal with last season.

    Just to be clear: I'm not saying that the Leafs have an amazing defence - by no means is that the case - we have one great defenseman and the rest are mediocre. Nor am I saying that the team possesses exceptional two-way forwards (it doesn't - instead we seem to have very good defencive forwards). What I am saying, however, is that Carlyle has instituted a pretty good defencive system just as was promised when he was hired to replace the run-and-gun Ron Wilson and that a lot has changed for better as a result.

    Having said all that I do want to, once again, agree with you that Reimer has been excellent and that we would probably not be where we are (on the inside looking out) had he not been this good. He has stolen us some crucial games and he`d been solid as a rock the rest of the way. Do we credit Rick St. Croix for that? Or simply Reimer`s talent and hard work? Or is it that everyone is a little bit more confident knowing what their role is and the whole team-game has improved and `the road` has become more familiar and predictable as a result of the well-instituted system and, paradoxically, lowered but more clearly-defined expectations?

    Of course, nothing is ever clear-cut and there`s never just one cause for the outcome, but I would suggest that the last suggestion I made may weight in a little heavier than the others.

    What do you think?

  5. You could add so many teams to the list here. There have been a lot of great teams, even dynasties, in the NHL in my lifetime. Yet no matter the firepower up front, we still remember "money" goalies who had to bring their best when it mattered most. Without Billy Smith, Grant Fuhr, Mike Vernon, Patrick Roy, on and on, we would not have visions of Bossy and Trots, Gretzky and Kurri, Sakic and Forsberg, even McDonald in his swan song, hoisting the cup.

    I have to say, with my critical eye for goaltenders, I have seen Reimer shore up his game as the season has progressed, and he is leaving little doubt that he is the real deal. Watching the Leafs get outshot by at least a two to one margin these past few games, I have to admit that I have not felt that anxiety I used to feel. I realized the other night that the last time I felt as confident in our goaltending, Eddie Belfour was in the crease. That is really telling in my mind.

  6. Nice post Alton. I think you make a fair point; when you look back at something, not, as a fan, "in the moment", you sometimes see things through different eyes. The Leafs were definitely not as bad in Ottawa as some fans thought. And yes, Reimer has had a combination of good play and good luck. (Those who follow this site know that I have often commented on two things: the difference between people saying a goalie looks great and being a bum is where the shooter puts the puck. Goalies drop so quickly nowadays, if the puck goes over their shoulder and under the crossbar, they have zero chance. When it hits them they're playing "great". When it misses them, they're a bum.

    Same with shooters like Kessel: when they go through games when the puck hits the goalie, they are said to be in a slump, even when they are playing exactly the's often a question of location, inches, and luck for both the goalie and the shooters...)

    Thanks Alton. Good stuff.

  7. You likely recall, InTimeFor62, that I have written fondly about Simmons many times here at VLM. Thank you for raising his name.

    Do I understand from your thoughtful post that today is in fact your birthday? If so, how wonderful. You have shared with me before the story of your being born "just" in time for the '62 Cup win, no doubt a fond connection at the time for your Dad (maybe not so much your mother, I'm guessing, who had other things on her mind, I'm thinking...)

    While we want to curb our hopes a bit, it would be nice indeed if someone was born this year, in June as you say, under similar circumstances. Someday he would be posting somewhere (I'll be long gone) as "InTimeFor13"...Thanks InTimeFor62, and Happy Birthday!

    1. My post was before midnight further west, but appears to be the 23rd from your vantage (not vIntage) point. So, it was the 22nd that provided both the cup final game (and a late-in-the-year Easter Sunday), so we hit the trifecta with the cup, a birth and Easter! Mom was primarily focussed on the middle one, though, apparently I arrived MUCH earlier than the doctors expected, hence Dad's ability to return from picking up my sister from the sitter in a post waiting-room-viewing-the-newborn early departure and dash home to see the rest of the game before the 2nd period started!

      Of course, in those days, the Dad stayed in the waiting room during birth, viewed the baby, and saw Mom before the hospital staff sends you home... no point sitting in the waiting room after all that... especially when such a highly anticipated game was the alternative to boring purposeless sitting without the option to see Mom (or me) again that night!

      Thought I'd mention that part in case people were thinking he was being selfish (from a more modern perspective)... things were sure done differently back then (not unlike playing the final game before our season will end)!

      Though, being slightly younger than you, I'm hoping to connect with InTimeFor13 (or 14) some day! Thanks for the felicitations!

    2. I wondered if I was a day off, InTimeFor62. Your Dad did the "right" thing, of course! Those were very different times for fathers and delivery rooms.

      He managed to get it all in, which is the most important thing!

  8. It's good to have a young goaltender with a future in front of him, for sure, Gerund O'. Experience will come! Thanks.

  9. You raise a number of key points, leafdreamer. I won't address them all, simply to say that I certainly agree with your overall assessment that the team plays differently now than it did before.

    I'm not one of those who thinks Wilson was a lousy coach (I did not like his acerbic public attitude, but that had little to do with his ability to coach...) and had no system, but, yes, Carlyle has managed to get most of these guys to play their "roles" most nights. And somehow, despite my preconceived notions about Carlyle, I think he is actually closer to the players than his predecessor. You can see he has a rapport with a lot of the guys on the bench. (Maybe not all, but most...)

    There is a reason why Gardiner is not playing. It's simple. For his immense skills, the coach wants what he is not giving, so nondescript guys like O'Byrne and Fraser play. It's not confusing. Those guys, though far less talented, try to do what the coach needs and wants, including physical play and being hard on the puck. They may make mistakes, but they are the kind the coach will live with because they are trying to do what they are asked to do.

    Of course we all know the team still has limitations and makes tons of "mistakes", but no one knows that better than the coach. Thus, he has tried to institute a system that, while not perfect because the players aren't perfect, can help the Leafs "get by" most nights. And yes, the players, as you suggest, all know their roles, know the expectations, and play their way into our out of ice time.

    Well said, as usual, leafdreamer, thanks.

  10. Totally agree Pete- there is a long list of names and teams I could have added!

    Your point about not feeling anxiety is a revealing one. And the allusion to Belfour is not crazy. In fact, there are times it almost looks like we're watching the same guy. Thanks Pete.

  11. Another great post Michael! Love it! That's one argument that has certainly perplexed me this season. The Leafs have been bailed by great goaltending! Yeah, but almost all great/good teams have solid goaltending that can steal them games. Last season when the NYR were blocking shots and hitting guys (things that usually correlate to bad advanced stats) people weren't all over the NYR for having the best goaltender in the NHL. They gladly finished first in the East and went on to the ECF. I suppose that's life in Leafland though.

    Btw, listening to your podcast right now with James Mirtle. Great work! I love most of Mirtle's work because it is as he says...he reports the facts. Don't get enough of that in MSM these days. I absolutely agree on your assessment of Carlyle btw. Great work Michael! Keep it up! :)

  12. It is indeed a peculiar, if somewhat understandable, perspective on the Leafs when people say it's all Reimer and good luck, Sasko. Yes, those are obviously factors, especially in this short season. But goaltending and good luck (or bad) have been part of the sport since the beginning of time (in sports terms!). How often have I posted here about the perception of an athlete as a "winner" or a "loser" is often a fraction of an inch. If a shot hits a goalie, he's great. If a shot misses him, he's a bum. And if a shooter hits the post, no one remembers; if it goes in off the post, he's celebrated as a great player under pressure.

    Oh well.

    Thanks for the kind words about the VLM site, and for listening to the "Leaf Matters" podcast, Sasko. I appreciate it very much.

  13. By the way, two petitions are circulating that Leafs fans should know about:

    1) to have Bob Cole call the games on CBC (instead of Jim the-leaf-hater Hugson) here:

    and 2) to have the red light go offon CN Tower every time Leafs score in the playoffs here:

    I think these are great ideas. The Leafs Nation is doing its part :)