TORONTO – How much is enough time before you are fully healed from an injury? That’s a question goaltender James Reimer and the Maple Leafs have been unable to answer for the last five weeks.
“It’s one of those things where it is frustrating,” Reimer said Friday following the Leafs’ first practice of 2016. “At the same time, when it was still hanging around, I tried to push through it last time and the wrong thing happened. You want to be diligent and smart about it so you can help the team long-term, obviously.”
Reimer initially injured his groin Nov. 24 during a practice. It was the end of a month in which he was 6-2-3 with a .949 save percentage. He had taken over the lead goaltending duties from a struggling Jonathan Bernier.
Reimer missed nine days before returning Dec. 3 in Minnesota. He made 27 saves on 28 shots in a 1-0 loss to the Wild. But he re-aggravated the injury, putting him on the shelf for several weeks.
On Dec. 27, Reimer was cleared to return and backed up Bernier as the Leafs visited the New York Islanders. In the following game at home against the Islanders, Reimer made his return in the third period after Bernier allowed six goals in 40 minutes.
Reimer made six saves and was scheduled to play the next night in Pittsburgh.
“We could have put him in earlier, but I was scared of his groin,” head coach Mike Babcock said about his decision to wait until the intermission rather than pull Bernier immediately after the fifth or sixth goal was surrendered against the Islanders.
The fear was not unfounded. Reimer felt fine by all accounts after his 20 minutes of game action. But when he woke up in Pittsburgh, the plan changed.
“My mood changed a bit when something wasn’t feeling the way I wanted it to feel,” Reimer said.
Antoine Bibeau was called up on an emergency basis from the AHL Marlies and Bernier was given another stay of execution in what has been a difficult season. He performed well in a 3-2 shootout victory.
Reimer took part in the full practice on Friday, an indication that his latest setback won’t be as long as the previous two. He has been ruled out of Saturday’s game against the St. Louis Blues. Bernier will get the net while Bibeau remains the backup.
“I’m not worried about it,” Reimer said. “It’s probably just a couple of more days.”
Yet, it’s impossible to know for sure. And the timing couldn’t be worse for him. He is in the final year of a two-year contract and was playing his best hockey.
Reimer’s entire tenure in Toronto has been marred by something, whether it be injury, increased competition in goal or inconsistent play.
The motivation is there, but figuring out when Reimer will be able to return for a consistent run has been impossible to tell.
The Leafs have a team of new sports science doctors examining the situation. Given the two setbacks Reimer has experienced, he’s definitely kept their hands full.