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Reimer faces adjustment period in San Jose

Goaltender must learn style of teammates in order to maximize success

by Kevin Woodley / Correspondent

VANCOUVER -- Goaltender James Reimer had to wait five days after being traded by the Toronto Maple Leafs before joining his new San Jose Sharks teammates on the ice because of delays getting a permit to work in the United States. It may take even longer for him to get comfortable on the ice with the Sharks.

Fitting in with new teammates in the middle of a season can take time for anyone, but settling into a new defensive system on the fly can be especially difficult for a goalie because so much of what they do is tied to what happens in front of them.

Making the right reads and predicting plays properly is not just limited to anticipating what attacking players are trying to do; a lot of it is predicated by knowing what your team is trying to force them to do, what options your teammates are responsible for taking away first, and what types of chances that leaves for the goalie to handle.

Understanding those preferences is one step; trusting guys to execute is another.

Neither is necessarily easy. Just ask Ryan Miller, who was traded to the St. Louis Blues for the end of the 2013-14 season after 11 seasons with the Buffalo Sabres.

Video: PHI@TOR: Reimer stops Laughton's scoring chance

"Looking back now, it's probably not ideal," Miller said. "It's hard to change gears. For myself, going from Buffalo to St. Louis, you almost have to go to a different mindset, different system, different expectations, just a lot of new things all at once."

Miller, who went from a .923 save percentage in 40 games with the struggling Sabres to a .903 in 19 regular-season games with the Stanley Cup Playoffs-bound Blues, stressed several times he wasn't trying to make any excuses. He started to feel better by the end of season, but the reality is a new system meant adjusting the reads he relies on.

"I would normally count on a 'D' to have backside because I am a guy that steps out and challenges, but (coach Ken) Hitchcock's system doesn't really allow for certain things," Miller said. "I'd take a step thinking they are going to do one thing and not another, and the puck moves somewhere else; that's the kind of thing I ran into."

It's the kind of thing Reimer now has to adjust to in San Jose, which is why he watched the Sharks' first two games closely on television while waiting for his work visa.

"Trying to figure out how they play and what their tendencies are," said Reimer, who was near the top of the NHL with a .932 save percentage before an .827 stretch over his final six games in Toronto dropped his overall save percentage to .918. "I think you just slowly watch and slowly learn and you just have to figure it out."

For Reimer, it's hardly the first time he's had to adjust to a new system.

The Maple Leafs went through four coaches and used three different goalie coaches during Reimer's six seasons in Toronto. Reimer made some of the biggest changes of his career going into this season and then working with first-year goalie coach Steve Briere to fit his game to the improved structure of new coach Mike Babcock.

The question now is whether those changes will still be effective with the Sharks.

Some of the smaller adjustments Reimer made this season, like sliding his pad inside the post in reverse-VH when he's in a hurry to ensure the post is sealed after giving up a few early short-side goals, will continue in San Jose.

The bigger question is whether Reimer can continue to take as much ice as he did this season in Toronto. It shouldn't come as a surprise given Babcock asked the same of his goaltenders with the Detroit Red Wings, but Reimer was notably more aggressive than at any other point in his pro career, a tough adjustment he credits to Briere.

"I've been thinking about that myself and I am going to work it out a little more, but I think it's something where for the most part, 90 percent of it stays the same," Reimer said. "There is a really good defense here and they should be able to take care of things."

Unlike Toronto, however, some of the ways they take care of things in San Jose are based more on reads than absolutes dictated by Babcock. That includes handling odd-man rushes, something Reimer already met with his new defensemen about.

"Does he want us to try and force him to shoot right way, force him to pass, give him the shot or put as much pressure as we can on him," Sharks defenseman Brenden Dillon said. "Just little things that in the grand scheme can make a big difference."

Reimer liked a lot of the little things he got from Briere in Toronto.

"He always has a plan, so we go into a situation knowing if I do this, this and this, I will be successful," Reimer said. "So if we're playing Chicago, and they like to do this, well two weeks ago we did it for 15 minutes of a half hour before practice, so it's there."

Reimer will continue to get video support from private goaltending coach Lyle Mast, who he credits for the biggest change in his game over the summer. They changed how Reimer tracks the puck, improving post-save balance and pre-shot movement efficiencies that also allowed him to play further out. And Reimer is already working to build a similar relationship with first-year Sharks goaltending coach Johan Hedberg, whose first focus is on making his new pupil comfortable.

"You just want to enjoy the moment and play. It's a game, the puck will bounce, you just have to read it and react," said Hedberg, who doesn't want to add to the adjustments early on. "You are in this League for a reason; you are a great goaltender."

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