James Reimer has carried a workload like this before.
Last night, Reimer started his 10th straight game, making 44 saves to lead the San Jose Sharks to a 4-3 shootout victory over the New York Islanders. This win snapped the Sharks’ seven-game losing streak, and kept them within seven points of the last wild card post-season spot.
And while Reimer’s 2-4-4 record with .904 Save % and a 3.42 Goals Against Average in his last 10 isn’t exactly scintillilating, he’s doing his best with back-up Adin Hill battling a persistent lower-body injury and a very green Zach Sawchenko backing him up.
The undrafted Sawchenko, 24, has just 51 pro games to his credit, two NHL mop-up appearances and 49 minor league contests, split between the AHL and the ECHL.
All this will come to a head this weekend, when the San Jose Sharks host the Boston Bruins and the Seattle Kraken on back-to-back nights. Reimer went back to back in late January versus Florida and Carolina, will he do so again?
“You don’t want to really face the situation of playing back-to-back, but we’re fighting for our lives here. So that might be the case. We’ll see how the game goes on Saturday,” head coach Bob Boughner acknowledged. “If we got to turn to Sawsy, he’s given us some decent periods. We’re just gonna have to manage as best we can.”
That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement for the rookie Sawchenko.
So don’t be surprised if it’s Reimer back-to-back this weekend — remember that he had stellar starts against Florida then Carolina, and this 10 days in a row has been divided by a 12-day All-Star break. Also, Boughner and goaltending coach Evgeni Nabokov have rested Reimer more than usual recently.
“Yesterday, he didn’t go on. Tomorrow, he won’t go on,” Boughner said.
And for what it’s worth, Reimer has done this before: This is the third time in his career that he’s started 10 or more in a row in the regular season. He’s fared well too.
From Dec. 7, 2017 to Jan. 19, 2018, Reimer, then of Boughner’s Florida Panthers, sported a sparkling 9-6-2 with a .924 Save % and a 2.59 GAA in 17 consecutive starts.
“We went through four or five goalies that year. Luongo was banged up,” Boughner recalled of his debut season behind the Panthers bench. “God, I can’t remember half the names. Harri Sateri, Sam Montembeault. The list kept growing. I think we signed Niemi for a couple of weeks. Reims had no choice there.
“He keeps himself in great shape and he’s focused and he’s prepared. He does so many things away from the rink to bring himself to be such a great athlete.”
From Feb. 19, 2011 to Apr. 9, 2011, a rookie Reimer, then of the Toronto Maple Leafs, went 12-6-4 with a .916 Save % and a 2.71 GAA in 23 straight starts.
Reimer, by the way, is on pace for 50 games played this season, a shade above his career-high 44.
I actually didn’t think Reimer played a consistent 60 against the Islanders last night — his rebound control wasn’t sharp and you hope for a stop on the game-tying Adam Pelech blast — but there’s no doubt that he stood tall in a third period and an OT where the visitors outshot the San Jose Sharks 18-5. And that’s not mentioning his stops in the shootout.
“I thought that as the Islanders were really pressing in third period, Reims seemed like he got better as the game went on,” Boughner offered. “It’s mental and battling and being focused. That’s what Reims brings to the table. He’s a very strong-minded guy, really prepares for games, and mentally, he’s in the zone.”
Teammate Jake Middleton agreed: “Nothing but respect for him. He just battles.”
“When you’re playing, you’re playing, and you look forward to it, you’re having fun. Like any job, there are times when you get tired, but you find a way to mentally try and get over the hump,” said Reimer.
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