Head coach Randy Carlyle has yet to reveal his starting goaltender for Saturday night’s season opener in Montreal. Needless to say, it’s been the center of attention in this year’s shortened training camp. Ever since Ed Belfour’s stint before the previous lockout, MLSE has been reeling every year to find a top-notch goaltender. That search seemed to finally come to an end in the final stretch of the 2010-11 season.
Many have labelled James Reimer the number one goalie going into the season, but the indecision of Carlyle to name the starter suggests it isn’t so clear.
There are a few key factors that will come into play in the eventual decision.
One point that will aid Reimer in his case for the job will be his 4-0-1 start before his injury in 2011-12. Reimer certainly showed he could handle games in stretches effectively, as his NHL debut would prove. He led the Leafs down the stretch to a near-playoff appearance in 2011.
Ben Scrivens, on the other hand, is making a strong push for the starting job himself. He led the Marlies to the Calder Cup Finals last season despite most of the team’s top scorers succumbing to injury. Even though the team got swept by arguably the best team in AHL history in the Finals, Scrivens finished the post-season with a .935 save percentage, a 1.92 goals against average and three shutouts. That performance instantly put him in contention for the number one job even before Jonas Gustavsson was shipped out of town.
Scrivens has also increased his chances merely by playing this season, and playing well. But the sole reason Scrivens may have the edge is the fact he’s played in 22 professional games this year, whereas Reimer hasn’t played one.
Considering the season is only 48 games in length, the Leafs won’t want to experiment too much in goal. If both Reimer and Scrivens get off to rocky starts, Canucks GM Mike Gillis might be getting another phone call from Leafs management. In the shortened season, there is very little room for catch-up once falling behind.
The bigger gamble would appear to be starting Reimer. After being part of last season’s epic meltdown, his confidence may be vulnerable. Scrivens however, is coming off a phenomenal playoff run in the minors. He’s also shown flashes of brilliance at the NHL level during last season. Add the fact Scrivens has been playing hockey all year, he may be more prepared to take on a starting role.
Whoever Carlyle ends up going with, they will be on a short leash. At least one of them has to prove themselves in the early going, or the Leafs just may bring in Roberto Luongo to solve the decade-long problem between the pipes.