As many Ontario towns watched Santa Claus parade through their streets on Saturday, the James Reimer bandwagon was the day’s most watched spectacle.
Despite losing to the Bruins on Saturday night, Reimer once again starred in goal. And the praise that has been building over the past month reached a climax, sort of.
The National Post’s David Alter called Reimer’s past five games the “best hockey” of Reimer’s career.
Goalie guru Greg Balloch included another Reimer save in his nightly #SixSaves on Twitter. The selection was justified:
And Don Cherry fanned the Reimer flames further. Speaking on Coach’s Corner, Cherry oozed flattery for Reimer saying, “Right now, he’s the best goaltender in the NHL. He’s terrific.”
In addition to the effusive praise, the Toronto media have started to suggest that Reimer’s run is unlikely. In his post-game report after the Leafs loss on Saturday night, Jonas Seigel writes:
[Dave Nonis] believed something was missing and traded for Bernier [in 2013]. It was the first in a series of slights toward Reimer, one of many times past management groups and coaching staffs looked beyond him and toward someone else – mostly Bernier. All of which makes this run of his so unlikely. His career in Toronto looked to be finished so many times.
Altogether, the feeling around Toronto is that Reimer is riding a career-saving, unsustainable hot streak. Is this really the case?
Goalie Analytics Show Reimer’s Not Streaking
Adjusted and High Danger Save Percentage
Despite the piling-on, James Reimer appears to be doing what he’s always done. He currently ranks second in the NHL in adjusted save percentage (AdSv%) behind only Henrik Lundqvist (among starters with more than 300 minutes played). In high danger save percentage (HdSv%), Reimer leads the NHL. These two stats form the foundation for the Leafs’ netminder’s early-season surge.
While Reimer’s been unbelievably good, a look at his goalie chart shows that he’s been an elite contributor in these goalie metrics for years:
Reimer’s work in AdSv% and HDSv% over the past three seasons has been elite, ranking among the top 25 percent of all NHL starters over the past three years. That work has continued this year and, as Reimer has been entrusted to carry the starter’s load, his excellent work has helped translate into a stretch of success in Toronto. Reimer may not remain in the top-two in these key goalie measures for the remainder of the year but even he he regresses to his three-season average, he’ll remain among the NHL’s elite.
Reimer and Rebounds
In addition to his save percentages, Reimer has proven to be always-steady/sometimes-elite in his work vs. rebound. Here are Reimer’s frozen shot and rebound percentages from last season:
As Matt Cane lays out in his latest piece at hockey-graphs.com, Reimer has long been underappreciated for his excellent work preventing goals on rebound attempts. The charts below include his metrics versus Pekka Rinne – for more on that, check Cane’s piece. For our purposes, Rinne provides an interesting benchmark for comparison.
Even as the Leafs’ fortunes have fluctuated over the past five years, from the heights of a playoff berth to the depths of lottery pick status last season, Reimer’s work against rebounds has only rarely dipped below league average and has oftentimes trended up into top-of-the-league ranks.
Of particular note is Reimer’s growing reliance on freezing the puck at a higher rate, thus lowering the number of rebound chances he faces. This strategy bodes well for Reimer’s standard counting stats – more frozen pucks decreases the number of tricky rebound attempts against. This suggests that, thought the Leafs’ number one goalie has refined his game over the past few years. Reimer’s results now are well within his historical career ranges.
Reimer’s Career Arc
It’s also useful to consider Reimer’s career trends in these two key save percentages. The graphs below show Reimer’s monthly HDSv% and AdSv% since 2010. The purple band represents -1/+1 standard deviation from Reimer’s norm over the time frame. Any monthly performance that lies outside the band can be considered an outlier.
As can be expected with any goalie, especially a goalie who has spent time both as a backup and a starter, there are monthly peaks and valleys in Reimer’s performance. In HDSv%, Reimer’s performance during October was right in line with his career average. November has inched into outlier territory but, with a week’s worth of games remaining, this portion of the data remains incomplete.
Still, though Reimer has posted monthly HDSv% marks at the top end of the standard deviation band in the past, there’s evidence here of performance above what might be reasonably expected to occur.
In AdSv%, Reimer’s month-by-month glance is much less volatile (which makes sense – AdSv% includes far more data points than just HDSv%). Reimer has performed at or just beyond the top end of the monthly standard deviation band several times during his career. Again, his work in October this season was about average relative to his career. His work so far in November has been just beyond the band but hardly out of line with other stretches of good play during his career with the Leafs.
Recently, James Mirtle wrote about head trajectory, a new technique being used by skills coaches to improve the performance of netminders. Head trajectory calls on a goaltender to track the puck vigilantly and move their head first, allowing the rest of their body to align after the initial head movement. Reimer is a student of the new technique and his run is becoming proof in action of the potential for this technique to improve a goaltender’s performance, regardless of their personal style.
While we’ve argued here that Reimer’s recent hot play is basically in line with his performance seen throughout his career, this new technique (along with his new practice of freezing pucks as discussed above) may help to solidify his play and prevent the statistical valleys that have cost him the starter’s job in Toronto in the past. If Reimer’s play settles into a consistent groove, the Leafs may stay in the hunt for a playoffs spot much longer than any pundit predicted in the preseason.
*for access to the graphs used here and downloads for other goalies, please check here.