Jonathan Bernier’s leg laceration during the game against the Nashville Predators required twelve stitches.
Regardless, the team took him off the ice to get sewn up — then put him back in again against the Central Division powerhouse to finish off the game, taking backup James Reimer right back out again.
Was it necessarily Bernier’s fault that the team allowed two final goals to lose the game 4-3 in that third period? Probably not entirely — but when a player has twelve stitches holding his leg together, it’s a good bet that he’s not playing his best.
It comes as no surprise, then, that the Leafs are putting Reimer back in — for good this time around — in the team’s faceoff against the New Jersey Devils on Friday night. He’ll stand guard over the net across the ice from Devils starter Cory Schneider; after his iconic collapse in the final stretch of the 2013-2014 season, it seems that Reimer is poised to make a Hallmark-movie-worthy comeback this February.
Unfortunately, though, the Leafs aren’t playing particularly well against the Devils this season — and they’ve lost their last ten games straight.
Going 0-9-1 in their last ten games has put the Leafs in dead last for that time period among teams in the NHL; they’ve even done worse than the struggling Buffalo Sabres, who won a matchup against the Montreal Canadiens this week to break a fourteen game losing streak. Where the Leafs were previously sitting firmly ensconced in a playoff position, they’re now only three points out from the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Arizona Coyotes; the only teams doing significantly worse are the Carolina Hurricanes, the Edmonton Oilers, and the aforementioned Sabres themselves.
Is there anything the Leafs can do against the Devils to bring about a win, though?
New Jersey spent a good chunk of the season in a neck-in-neck race with the Coyotes and the Philadelphia Flyers for the ‘best non-tanking terrible team’, but they’ve finally pulled themselves out of their rut by magically winning games in which they’re outshot so badly that the team went two full matchups getting outshot 70-28.
The Devils have Cory Schneider, though, who has done remarkably well considering the team playing in front of him — and with the Leafs flying down the standings faster than Evander Kane’s trade value, it’s likely that this could be loss number eleven for the Original Six team.
Should they lose tonight, though, the biggest question for the Leafs won’t be how to turn the season around — it’ll be who the team should sell before the deadline. With no hopes of making the playoffs, it’s likely the team will want to make some big transactions before March 2nd — but should it be the expected names (Tyler Bozak, Cody Franson, Joffrey Lupul) or someone new? Plenty of teams are looking for a good loaner goalie — not the least of which being the New York Rangers, who are down a starter with Henrik Lundqvist out for at least a month with a throat injury. Dealing one of the Leafs’ two extremely effective goaltenders to a team that badly needs them could yield a phenomenal return; with players like Evander Kane and Keith Yandle being marketed as long-term trade assets, the Leafs might need to adopt a different strategy to truly get a return on any players they choose to send out of Toronto.
Whatever the outcome of the game tonight, though, one thing is clear — it’s hard to be as bad as the Buffalo Sabres, but this is looking to be a matchup of two teams trying very hard.