Sunday, March 16, 2014

Will Leafs Experience Drop Off with Reimer?

Winners of 15 of their past 22, the Leafs will have to continue their surge without the efforts of No. 1 goalie Jonathan Bernier, who left Thursday's game against the LA Kings with a lower-body injury.

Although the injury is not considered serious, Bernier did not practice with the team ahead of Sunday's matchup against the Capitals. The Leafs also recalled Drew MacIntyre from the Marlies to serve as James Reimer's backup.

At this point there is no timeline for how long Bernier will be out, and the task of guiding the Leafs down the stretch and into the playoffs could conceivably fall upon Reimer, the man who Bernier has soundly beat out for the No. 1 job this season.

But should Leafs fans worry? Is the drop off between Bernier and Reimer as steep as the numbers so far this season suggest?

Bernier has unquestionably been the Leafs' MVP this season. Under a barrage of shots, the 25-year-old netminder has been a wall, posting the league's fifth highest save percentage among qualified starters, both overall (.925) and at even-strength (.935). Bernier has saved the Leafs over 18 goals on the season compared to an average netminder, which is worth about six points in the standings.

But as Anthony Petrielli put it, "don’t forget that there’s only one goalie in this organization who has led and carried a team to the playoffs. It’s not Bernier."

Even though Reimer's .914 save percentage doesn't look great next to Bernier, he's still a viable starting netminder.

At even strength this season, Reimer has a .926 save percentage. That's just .001% lower than Ryan Miller at even strength, or one goal per 1000 shots. Reimer's even strength save percentage is better than Henrik Lundqvist, Roberto Luongo, Kari Lehtonen, Antti Niemi, and Marc-Andre Fleury, among others. Despite one of the lower overall save percentages of his career (still an above-average .914), Reimer has been pretty good.

What has hurt Reimer this season is the penalty kill. Last year the Leafs had one of the league's best short-handed units, and Reimer had an unbelievable .920 save percentage when the Leafs were short. That buoyed his overall save percentage to a team-record .924. This year, however, the Leafs and Reimer have been substantially worse with a man in the box, as the PK is near the bottom of the league and so is Reimer's .853 short-handed save percentage. In fact, only three goalies with more than 25 games played have a worse save percentage on the PK.

Special teams play is highly variable from year to year, to the point that it has been described as "essentially random" for goalies, whereas even strength play is more consistent. Over his career, Reimer's short-handed save percentage has bounced between .855, .808, .920, and .853. His even-strength save-percentage, however, has fluctuated more stably between .933, .918, .924, .926.

Over his four-year career, Reimer's even-strength save percentage is .925, right in line with his play this season. That's better than established No. 1 guys like Lehtonen, Jimmy Howard, and Mike Smith. It's also remarkably similar to Bernier's .926 career mark.

The point of playing goal is to stop the puck. It really doesn't matter how a goalie does it. Bernier definitely is calmer in net and inspires more confidence than Reimer, who is a pure battler, but their results over their careers have been very similar. Even one of Reimer's primary deficiencies, his rebound control, which the eye-test says Bernier trumps, isn't significantly different between the two. Bernier is better, but not by a wide margin. Plus, Reimer has posted an above-average save percentage on rebounds over the last three seasons, somewhat making up for the difference.

Bernier has performed substantially better this season, and he's the main reason the Leafs are in a playoff spot, but having to rely on Reimer for the duration of Bernier's injury isn't the end of the world.

After years of no goaltending, the Leafs are very lucky that the loss of an elite goaltender, even if only temporary, means a very minimal, if any, drop in the ability to stop the puck.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...