Reimer among the best of the back­ups

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - JONAS SIEGEL

James Reimer is some­thing of a rar­ity in the NHL this sea­son.

The 28-year-old is among the few backup goal­tenders who can play reg­u­larly at around the same level as the starter. In fact, in his first sea­son with Florida, Reimer has al­most iden­ti­cal num­bers to Pan­thers No. 1 Roberto Luongo.

Luongo: 2.53 goals-against av­er­age, .919 save per­cent­age in 33 starts

Reimer: 2.50 goals-against av­er­age, .918 save per­cent­age in 19 starts

The re­li­able backup goal­tender is an es­pe­cially valu­able com­mod­ity in the NHL this sea­son given the com­pressed schedule that sees most teams now play­ing ev­ery other night un­til mid-April. Em­ploy­ing one goal­tender un­der such strain risks not only poor per­for­mance, but in­jury.

Bru­ins No. 1 Tuukka Rask, for in­stance, has started 44 of 55 games this year and he’s not only stum­bled with in­creas­ing use (.891 save per­cent­age since Dec. 1), but had to leave a game last week with a groin is­sue.

Cam Tal­bot has been re­mark­ably con­sis­tent for Ed­mon­ton de­spite start­ing an NHL-lead­ing 49 games, but can he hold up down the stretch? The Oil­ers, chas­ing their first play­off berth since 2006, have to hope so with his ex­pected backup, Jonas Gus­tavs­son, now play­ing in the mi­nors.

Other back­ups de­liv­er­ing aboveav­er­age per­for­mance be­yond Reimer this year in­clude: Buf­falo’s An­ders Nils­son (.923 save per­cent­age in 17 starts); Chicago’s Scott Dar­ling (.925 in 19 starts); Wash­ing­ton’s Philipp Grubauer (.931 in 13 starts); New Jersey’s Keith Kinkaid (.920 in 14 starts); and New York’s Antti Raanta (.918 in 15 starts).

Be­yond that group are back­ups as­cend­ing into the No. 1 role ei­ther be­cause of in­jury or poor per­for­mance. The Kings’ Peter Bu­daj (more on him be­low), Sen­a­tors’ Mike Con­don and Is­lan­ders’ Thomas Greiss the best ex­am­ples of that.

The Pan­thers pay a pre­mium to carry both Reimer and Luongo — al­most $8 mil­lion US on the cap — but it may just get them into the post-sea­son while other teams come up short.

STRUC­TURE

What has Guy Boucher brought to the Ot­tawa Sen­a­tors in his first sea­son be­hind the bench?

“De­fen­sive struc­ture is by far the big­gest im­pact,” Pierre Do­rion, the team’s gen­eral man­ager, said in a re­cent in­ter­view.

A de­fen­sive dis­as­ter un­der Dave Cameron last year, Ot­tawa has in­deed made sub­stan­tive leaps this sea­son un­der Boucher.

Goals-against rank last sea­son: 26th (2.94 per-game)

This sea­son: 14th (2.68)

Shots against rank last sea­son: 30th (32.8 per-game)

This sea­son: 14th (30.1) The penalty kill has made a big leap too, jump­ing from 29th at a lowly 75.8 per cent to 10th at 83.1 per cent.

Ot­tawa re­mains a poor puck pos­ses­sion team (23rd), but they’ve cut down the qual­ity of chances against un­der Boucher while play­ing with what those around the team de­scribe as im­proved “struc­ture”.

“(Boucher) was def­i­nitely hired for that,” Do­rion said of de­fen­sive im­prove­ments. “But he was also hired be­cause he’s a great hockey guy (and) he’s a great com­mu­ni­ca­tor.”

KEEP­ING L.A. AFLOAT

Goalie A: .918 save per­cent­age/2.22 goals-against av­er­age/5 shutouts

Goalie B: .920 save per­cent­age/2.02 goals-against av­er­age/7 shutouts

The num­bers for Goalie A be­long to Jonathan Quick last sea­son. The num­bers for Goalie B? That would be Bu­daj this sea­son who’s been sen­sa­tional for the Kings in Quick’s ab­sence. The 34-year-old posted three shutouts in a span of four starts re­cently, in­clud­ing back-to­back blank­ings of the Fly­ers and Avalanche.

It’s worth re­call­ing that Bu­daj, who ac­tu­ally leads the NHL with seven shutouts, spent last year with the On­tario Reign of the Amer­i­can Hockey League and was ul­ti­mately named the league’s top goal­tender.

500-CLUB

Pa­trick Mar­leau be­came the 45th player in NHL his­tory to join the 500-goal club last week. A one-time as­sis­tant coach with the San Jose Sharks, Tim Hunter of­fered his thoughts on the 37-year-old’s ca­reer:

“Well the No. 1 thing with Patty is I’ve never coached a player that prac­tises as hard and played in prac­tice at 100 per cent, at full speed,” said Hunter, a Sharks as­sis­tant for five sea­sons. “That was the most im­pres­sive thing with him. And a com­plete pack­age of a big guy with a great physique, great hands, great speed, just a very im­pres­sive com­plete pack­age.”

Hunter added of Mar­leau: “He could play as long as he wants. He’s another guy like ( Jaromir) Jagr ... I wouldn’t doubt if he played past 40.”

20-GOAL GUAR­AN­TEE

Out­side of Alex Ovechkin, there’s no bet­ter guar­an­tee for 20 goals in to­day’s NHL than Los An­ge­les Kings cen­tre Jeff Carter. Carter has cracked the 20-goal mark in 11 of his 12 NHL sea­sons — sec­ond only to Ovechkin, who’s 12 for 12 — in­clud­ing this year, the 32-year-old trail­ing only Sid­ney Crosby with 27 goals. Carter pot­ted three goals last week, in­clud­ing his league-lead­ing ninth game-win­ning goal this sea­son, which also matched a fran­chise record. He also leads the NHL with four over­time win­ners.

DAVID ZALUBOWSKI, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

For­mer Toronto Maple Leafs net­min­der James Reimer is at the top of the list when it comes to Na­tional Hockey League backup goalies.

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