When this season began it was clear the Toronto Maple Leafs didn’t have a number one goaltender. The lack of experience between James Reimer and Ben Scrivens had many fans calling for the team to acquire a veteran like Roberto Luongo. That of course didn’t happen and the Leafs for the first time are starting to look out of sorts between the pipes. With that being said, it may have more to do with the way head coach Randy Carlyle is rotating Reimer and Scrivens, as opposed their actual play on the ice.
Carlyle has stated he likes to go with the hot hand, but it’s becoming very confusing to figure out who that is lately. During this five game losing streak the Leafs have played poorly as a team. The goaltending hasn’t been great, but it hasn’t been the cause of the losses either. Yet Carlyle has made puzzling decisions when it comes to who starts in goal.
Let’s start with last Tuesday when Reimer got the call in Winnipeg. The team didn’t play well in front of him and he was yanked after giving up four goals. So it wasn’t shocking that Carlyle went with Scrivens on Thursday against the Penguins. Toronto promptly lost 3-1 so you would think he would have gone back to Reimer on Saturday against the Jets, but again Scrivens got the call. Now it gets really peculiar.
During that Winnipeg game the Leafs had an atrocious second period that turned into four straight Jets goals. It looked like Carlyle might pull Scrivens, not for anything he did, but to save him further embarrassment because of the defense. Instead he kept him in and Toronto scored twice late in the frame to cut the deficit to 4-3. To start the third, however, Reimer was put in and he stopped eight straight shooters at one point during the shootout, which the Leafs ultimately lost.
Now it’s anyone’s guess who will start on Wednesday against the Tampa Bay Lightning, or who even deserves to at this point. Carlyle’s system has robbed anyone of picking up any momentum lately. You would think confidence would be a huge part of any goalie’s game, but with the way things are going right now for the Leafs, it’s tough for either goalie to generate any.
I am of the opinion that a team should have a clear cut starter who plays 75% of the time, and a backup who plays in back-to-back situations and just to give the starter a night off every now and then. Rotating a tandem only really makes sense if the team in front of them is among the league’s elite and you can afford to experiment a little. Essentially like the situation in Vancouver with Luongo and Cory Schneider.
The issue with Toronto is they don’t have two goalies with that type of talent. Scrivens hasn’t even played in 30 NHL games yet, and while Reimer has been good more than he has been bad, he’s working on a small sample size as well. When he has stayed healthy and been allowed to run with the starting duties, Reimer has shown he can play at a high level. Where he ran into problems was during the second half of 2011-12 when he returned from injury and Ron Wilson began flipping goalies regularly. This year he dealt with a knee injury after getting a good run of games under his belt, but can’t seem to regain his groove.
The combination of the defense starting to slip and weaker goaltending than the Leafs got earlier in the season, has seen Toronto face their first real adversity of the campaign. Even if they won’t admit it, there are probably quite a few fans having flashbacks to the collapse of last year. If Carlyle can’t figure out a system that works, and if Scrivens and Reimer can’t execute it, history could easily repeat itself.