James Reimer3

I’ve often written that the goal in the offensive zone is to create chaos for the opposing defense so they have to make decisions. Once you’re asking people to make tough decisions, they occasionally make the wrong one, and suddenly they find themselves in a lot of trouble.

Well, on a much bigger scale the Toronto Maple Leafs have caused chaos for themselves with their poor play over their five game losing streak, and they find themselves having to make the “tough” decision: do they go with James Reimer, who hasn’t been very good since Jonathan Bernier went down, or do they go with their AHL starter Drew MacIntyre against the St. Louis Blues at home tomorrow?

No seriously, that’s a real question people are asking.

Of course you start Reimer. This is madness.

Just so we’re not beating up a straw man, here’s two tweets from this morning that had me a little baffled from Toronto radio host Greg Brady:

Now, in fairness, I like Brady; this is a thing radio hosts have to do – drum up a little controversy for the sake of interesting radio, which he and Andrew Walker do well. But it’s a pretty overcooked stance (some would call it “defending the indefensible,” which incidentally is a segment on their show) mostly taken by people who’s job it is to debate and analyze, and hopefully not anyone who actually has to make these calls.

There’s just no way that’s “best.”

James Reimer has been bad over his past five starts, got ya. Same page here. He’s given up 19 goals in five games, hasn’t bailed out the boys when they’ve made errors, and has given up a few goals that make you go “I guess it wasn’t ALL his fault, but geez, sure would’ve liked to get a stop there.” Most teams don’t have to pay for every error they make and it’s hurt the Leafs, who’ve been bailed out a lot this season.

But in reality, starting Drew MacIntyre in the Air Canada Center in a crucial game in the midst of a playoff push against the St. Louis Blues is a decision you just can’t make at this point, regardless of how unhappy you are with your NHL tender. It’s not even on the tail-end of back-to-backs, which would at least make some sense.

Reimer is a career 67-49-15 in 140 starts in which he’s posted almost dead-average numbers for an NHL starter (in his one playoff round, his numbers went up). That’s 7,848 minutes in which he’s seen 4,348 shots. He’s battled from the WHL to the ECHL to the AHL to the NHL, he’s won playoff games in Boston, and he’s been a part of one of the League’s better goalie tandems for the entire season. He’s been an excellent Toronto Maple Leaf.

Drew MacIntyre is a good goalie who made 14 saves last night in a fill in role, but he’s also a 30-year-old who’s played in five career NHL games (last night his first since 2011-12 – his other two came in 2007-08). He’s seen a total of 54 NHL shots over 141 minutes. He’s fine and all but there’s a reason he is where he is, and there’s an awful lot of pressure surrounding this group in Toronto right now.

Reimer is in a tough spot mentally right now, but I think people vastly overestimate the concept of game-to-game momentum. Every game is a clean slate, and it’s impossible to predict where a guy’s head is really at. Reimer could very well post a classic “eff you coach” game tomorrow night and get hot, and that’s the Leafs best chance at winning six or seven of their next nine games, which they’ll likely need to do. Goalies are streaky like that.

The difference between an NHL starter and an AHL one isn’t that large – it’s just that one puck that the guy in the lower league doesn’t get quite enough of that goes in instead of off the post, every so often, that separates them. You never know when the minor difference in the quality of those players is going to show up, so you damn sure don’t want to chuck the guy in the lower league to the wolves when your NHL season is on the line.

If the Leafs choose to start MacIntyre over Reimer on Tuesday night, it’s pure scapegoating. Randy Carlyle and the rest of the team can say that everything was going great until Bernier got hurt, and pin their failures on Reimer.

You’d like to see the Leafs head coach stand up, say he believes in big 34 who’s been great for him in the past, and that they’re going to ride him and play better in front of him. You’d like him to deflect the focus from Reimer so he can just play. It would be good for the team.

I’ll predict the Leafs make the right call here. Reimer hasn’t been good, but he’s a scrapper. They just need to put him in a position to prove it.